MISSOULA – The Montana Grizzlies brought back almost everyone from a Big Sky Conference championship team, while adding a few new pieces. So naturally, many expected near perfection this season. But unfortunate breaks have already put Montana behind pace in one way.
Last year the Grizzlies started the same five players in every game. They suffered no significant injuries. But now Montana is missing two key contributors.
Their most experienced big guy, Jamar Akoh, is still out indefinitely with a wrist injury. Head coach Travis DeCuire said they won’t even re-evaluate his playing status for a couple weeks. And after starting three consecutive games, sophomore guard Timmy Falls missed Montana’s last contest a week ago. DeCuire wouldn’t comment on the nature of the issue and called Falls “day-to-day.” So already Montana’s depth is being tested much more than last season.
“Some of that was luck last year,” admitted DeCuire. “We had some guys play banged up. We had some guys play through some injuries. The biggest thing for us is the sport is about adversity, whether it’s long stretches of adversity, or during stretches of games or practices and how you play through those. The best athletes play well through adversity. So right now we’re being challenged early in the season, which I think is best for us late in the season.”
Montana has approached its non-conference schedule a little different this year. Instead of building up to Big Sky play, the defending conference champs have shown urgency from the opening tip.
The Griz are stalking resume building wins over the first couple months. A 4-1 start with victories over Georgia State and Miami of Ohio helps. But Wednesday night they could really make a statement.
The Griz meet perhaps their most difficult opponent of the regular season when they travel to Creighton. The high-scoring Bluejays just beat ranked Clemson in the Cayman Islands Classic championship and sit just outside of the national top 25.
“Chance to play in front of a great crowd,” said DeCuire, referencing the over 16,000 that regularly pack into the CHI Health Center to watch the Bluejays. “High level basketball team, they are a high-octane offensive team. They can put 100 on the board on any given night. They score in spurts, so our defense will be challenged. It’s an opportunity for us to figure out where we are at, see where we are at. And if we can go on the road at their place and play well, it’s a good sign for our future.”
A slightly depleted group of Grizzlies try to pull off quite a feat against the Bluejays at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday night in Omaha.