MISSOULA – It’s a lot of fun when you’re on a winning streak and in first place, and to stay there over and over again takes a lot of work. Some very good teams let up and have a bad game once a while, but the Montana Grizzlies have found a way to avoid a slip in league.
The Griz have won nine in a row to begin Big Sky Conference play. They’ve really only played one close game, at Portland State, in that stretch, defeating all of their other opponents by at least nine points.
The Griz have continued this successful run because they have completely bought into what their intense head coach is preaching, which includes finding joy in every moment of the work.
“We enjoy the process,” said Travis DeCuire, who is in his fourth year leading the program. “So what that means is enjoy the practice, enjoy the film work, enjoy the conversations about getting better, enjoy figuring out what it’s going to take to win the next game, and then enjoy playing that game. Because I think last year we got a little caught up in enjoying yesterday and looking forward to a month from now, instead of the day-to-day process. And I think that’s why the guys have played better: We’ve been a little more consistent.”
Montana men’s basketball fans have had a lot to cheer for over the past several years, but right now does feel special.
The Griz appear to genuinely enjoy playing with their teammates, and no one tries to do too much. The eight players in the rotation have all accepted their role, and the others stay active cheering on the bench.
That balance is something every coach in America strives for, but very few teams find. How did it happen for the Griz? And which happened first: Did great chemistry result in success, or did the fun of winning lead to a closer team?
“I think they coincide, not necessarily at the same time,” said DeCuire. “And I don’t want to say egg before the chicken, chicken before the egg, but it was a work in progress. The role defining started in the summer. We had some hard conversations with guys between August and October. That was when guys started to settle in with, ‘OK, this is what I have. Let’s make the most of it. If I want more, I’ve got to play better.'”
“I think from the beginning of the year, since the summertime when we were all together, I think we built that chemistry,” said junior forward Jamar Akoh. “I think now it’s evident in the way we’re sharing the ball. On the defensive end we’re guarding together. So Ithink it’s all just more evident to everybody now, but I think it’s always been there.”
The Griz try to keep the magic going on the road this week. They travel to Northern Colorado on Thursday and North Dakota on Saturday. The Griz beat UNC 89-80 and UND 109-79 in Missoula four weeks ago.