MISSOULA – The first month of the season saw the Montana Grizzlies men’s basketball team try out several different lineups, and a couple key players missed some big games. But now heading into one of its toughest road trips with conference play on the horizon, Montana appears back to full strength.
The Dahlberg Arena crowd saw a welcome sight Monday night. Jamar Akoh played his second consecutive game after missing six contests with a wrist injury. The senior big man dominated down low with 17 points and eight rebounds against North Dakota State, but he admitted afterward his recovery is still a work in progress.
“I have good moments, bad moments,” said Akoh. “I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent confident in it. Sometimes I go to my right hand and I’m about to make my shot and I just don’t have it yet, so that’s a little frustrating. But I just think it’s part of it, something I have to work through.”
Even with Akoh not at his best, he plays a vital role for the Grizzlies, so head coach Travis DeCuire couldn’t wait to get him back.
“You can’t play without your anchor when your program is built on having one,” said DeCuire. “So with him out we couldn’t throw the ball inside. We couldn’t play inside-out. It affected our ability to get high-percentage shots.”
Even while dealing with a few bumps and bruises, UM has built a 6-3 record. The most recent College Insider mid-major poll ranks the Grizzlies 19th in the country, and they wrap up non-conference play this week with one trip that provides two chances at a signature win.
“Arizona is about as athletic as anyone in the country, about as big as anyone in the country,” said DeCuire. “South Dakota State is the team with the longest home win streak in the country.”
“The thing is, these teams are good, but I think we are pretty good, too,” said forward Bobby Moorehead. “I think we have a chance in both of these games. It’s going to be a tough road trip, but we’re excited.”
The Grizzlies will take on the Arizona Wildcats at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, looking for their first victory over a Pac-12 opponent since 2011. Then they battle the No. 14 team in the mid-major poll, South Dakota State, in Brookings on Saturday night.
Conference play tips off on Saturday, Dec. 29.