MISSOULA — Kyle Owens poured in a career-high 27 points and Montana played arguably its best defensive game of the season as the Grizzlies topped men's basketball rival Weber State 80-67 on Thursday evening in Dahlberg Arena.
Cam Parker added 15 points and six assists for Montana while Josh Bannan finished with 13 points for the Grizzlies (9-9, 5-6 Big Sky Conference). Seikou Sisoho Jawara led Weber State with 19 points as five players scored in double figures for the Wildcats (11-5, 6-3).
Owens finished the game 11 for 16 from the floor and 4 for 5 from deep, with all four of his 3-pointers coming in the second half.
"I think the ball was just moving. I think we were just moving it until we got an open shot and then that just comes with my teammates trusting me to hit my shots when I get it in my spot and we just go from there," Owens said.
After taking a five-point lead into halftime, the Grizzlies stepped on the gas in the second half. Montana consistently led by double digits, and each time Weber State would get a basket, the Grizzlies seemed to have an answer as opposed to past games when they have run into slumps offensively. Owens' fourth 3-pointer came off a dish from Parker to give Montana a 63-51 lead with 6:23 to go, and Bannan closed the game out down the stretch to give the Grizzlies the rivalry win. Michael Steadman added nine points for the Griz.
Montana held Weber State well below its average of 84.5 points per game. The Wildcats are a lethal 3-point shooting team as well, averaging 9.5 made triples per game, but the Grizzlies held Weber State to 3 for 14 from deep.
Montana coach Travis DeCuire said UM's defense fed into its offense as well as it has all season.
"Defense wins games, I don’t know that I can put it any way better than that," DeCuire said. "If you have inexperience playing defensive-minded style of basketball, and having that carry over to the offensive end, you really don’t believe that’s how it works. And you see it at the highest level right? There’s guys out there scoring a ton of points but they’re not producing wins. We just have to continue to focus on all the things that matter and I thought our guys did that (Thursday)."
"I think it really comes down to team defense," Bannan added. "Trusting that if you close out and take away the 3, one of your teammates will have your back and he’ll rotate to the next guy and just keep rotating and flying out to the next guy was one of our big focuses for the game."
Montana finished shooting 52.6% from the field and 9 for 18 from deep. The Griz tallied up 19 total assists with Brandon Whitney also dishing out six assists. Montana's 80 points were its second-highest point total against an NCAA Division I opponent this season.
Montana also went 11 for 13 from the free throw line while Weber State finished 20 for 25. The Wildcats shot the ball at a 44% clip from the field.
Ball movement was a key offensively for Montana, with players finding the open man more fluidly than games past.
"Just in practice we’ve been going over making the extra pass and extra play and really trusting each other on offense and defense," Parker said. "Coaches show us a lot of film and we’re just kind of being selfish (in past games) and hugging on our own guys versus helping our own teammates and making ourselves better as a team so I would just say coach showing us film and we have a lot of unselfish guys here. We don’t really have any egos so everyone is just happy when the next person scores."
The two teams will match up again on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Missoula.