(Editor’s note: Montana State University press release)
BOZEMAN – Montana State looks to rebound from last weekend’s losses in a tough setting when the Bobcats face Montana in Dahlberg Arena Saturday, and MSU coach Brian Fish said the staple needs to be rebounding.
“That’s the part of the loop we have to close,” Fish said in advance of Saturday’s showdown against the league-leading Grizzlies. Teams have hurt us in the second half on rebounds. We’ve been even at halftime, but teams have hurt us in the second half by getting key rebounds against us. I think we turned the ball over 15 times the entire road trip, we shot the ball well, the ball movement was good. Right now it’s rebounding that’s hurting us.”
Idaho out-rebounded the Cats by 15 last Thursday, turning 16 offensive boards into 26 second-chance points. On Saturday, Eastern Washington grabbed eight more boards than MSU, and while the Eagles scored only seven points after offensive rebounds three of those came with under two minutes left and the game tied.
“We have to block out, put some bodies on people,” Fish said. “We were right at 80 points a game on the road trip, a lot of guys are playing well, it really comes down to the battle of the boards. We’ve lost that, and we have to get it back.”
The rebounding issue is a recent trend and not a characteristic of his team that has been established over time. For the season’s entirety the Cats have one more rebound than the opponent, and in spite of grabbing fewer rebounds than the opponent in three straight games MSU has been out-rebounded in only four of the last nine games. The data takes a funny turn, though.
“If you look at it our initial defense has been good, we’ve given up about 50 points (per game) initially and then we’re giving up second-chance points off the rebounds,” Fish said. “It’s that simple. When you get to this time of year you have one or two areas that are hurting you if you’re not winning, and for us it’s the rebounding right now. We’ve got to get that addressed this week and moving forward as we head toward the tournament.”
A more subtle trend exists, though. In the team’s current three-game losing streak, the Cats stand -2 in total rebound margin in the first half. In the second half, the Cats have been out-rebounded by 30 total rebounds over that three-game stretch. “After halftime it seems like teams just get a feel for what we’re doing and decide to just pin their ears back and get to the boards,” Fish said.
The task is tall this weekend. Montana stands second in the Big Sky Conference in rebound margin in all games (+3.7), and also in league games (+3.2). Junior forward Jamar Akoh is seventh in the Big Sky at 7.4 boards per conference game, while Bobby Moorehead (5.8) is 15th. While the individual play of players such as Ahmaad Rorie (16.8 points per league game), Michael Oguine (16.1) and Akoh (15.7) gives Montana the veneer of an offensive-oriented program, the Grizzlies make their mark on the defensive end. UM leads the Big Sky in scoring defense (68.2 points per game allowed), scoring margin (+12.3), and field goal defense (.404).
Tyler Hall leads the Bobcats into Saturday’s game, averaging 19.2 points per conference game, fifth in the Big Sky. Harald Frey’s 13.1 scoring average is 19th. While those two match up with Montana’s sensational guard tandem, forward Keljin Blevins stands to play a key role inside. He averages 9.7 points and 5.7 boards a game.
Saturday’s contest shapes up as a big one as Montana battles for a regular season Big Sky crown and the Cats fight for positioning for the league tournament, which begins March 6 in Reno, Nevada. Montana is 13-2, a shade ahead of Weber State (12-2) and Idaho (11-3) in the standings. The two pursuers meet this weekend in Ogden. MSU presently stands 6-9 and in eighth place out of 12, a half-game behind Portland State and a game-and-a-half behind Idaho State. The Cats and Montana both host Idaho State and Weber State next weekend. Considerable movement could occur in the next two weekends.
While his team has lost three straight, Fish isn’t worried about his team getting down. “I think the morale’s evident by how hard they’re playing,” he said. “As a coach you’re never upset when guys are hurt when they lose because that means they poured everything into it. You get more concerned when guys don’t hurt when they lose because they didn’t take a swing at it. Our guys are mad, they’re upset that they’re in this position, but we just need to focus and get better.”