MISSOULA – We saw incredible individual performances throughout 2018. But one outstanding team tops the KPAX list of the best stories of the year.
Montana Grizzly men’s basketball won 26 games, their most in 26 years, on their way to a Big Sky championship.
Head coach Travis DeCuire’s club rolled through league play, going 16-2. But they had an extremely stressful three-day run in Reno at the conference tournament. Montana dug out of a hole against North Dakota. Then made a miraculous comeback in the final minutes to shock Northern Colorado. Finally in the championship, they erased an 11-point halftime deficit, dominating Eastern Washington in the second half. Which sent the Grizzlies to the Big Dance for the first time in five years.
“You saw a group slow down a very explosive offensive team that at one point in time last night was shooting 75 percent from the floor,” said DeCuire after the game. “So for us to hold them to 36 percent in the second half, and out-score them by 28 points, that’s defense.”
“That’s the reason that I came to this program,” said senior forward Fabijan Krslovic. “I came here to go to tournaments. It’s real special. We’ve put in so much work this year. Everyone has bought in from top to bottom. It’s a great thing to be part of this group.”
“It’s really hard to explain the feeling. It’s unbelievable,” said junior guard Michael Oguine. “You know everyone dreams of doing this ever since they picked up a basketball. So to be here, it’s a great feeling, but we still know we have work to be done. You know, we don’t want to be a team that showed up and wasn’t ready to play. We want to make sure we’re prepared to give our best against Michigan.”
Montana drew a 14-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and jumped to a 10-0 lead in the opening minutes versus 3-seed Michigan. But a couple long cold stretches doomed the Grizzlies upset attempt. They fell to the eventual national runners-up, 61-47.
The success from that season has carried over until the end of 2018. UM is 9-4 going into the new year, and the overwhelming favorite to repeat as Big Sky champs.