MISSOULA -- As the halfway point of February approaches, thoughts inevitably begin to turn to postseason play and March Madness in men's college basketball.
Not for the Montana Grizzlies.
With just seven games left in Big Sky Conference play before the conference tournament in Boise, Idaho, in March, the Griz are still taking it one day at a time as the regular season begins to wind down and the home stretch nears. Montana's next matchup will be Thursday at home against Weber State followed by a home game with Idaho State on Saturday.
So right now, the rival Wildcats have Montana's focus.
"I won't worry about postseason until after we play that last conference game and see where we're at," Montana coach Travis DeCuire said. "Then we'll go deal with postseason when we get to it, but up until that point it's always going to be one game at a time."
Montana currently sits back atop the Big Sky standings at 10-3 in conference play. After dropping back-to-back road games to Weber State and Portland State, the Griz are riding a three-game win streak after beating Eastern Washington and Idaho last week.
Eastern's game was an emotional bout as the teams combined for 55 fouls while Idaho was another matchup that Montana needed to pull away late to win, adding two more games that required the players to dial in late to win.
"That's what it takes to compete for championships, and we have a long way to go to say we're competing for that," DeCuire said. "But we're sitting in a good spot. When you look back at seasons, how many close games do you win? How many games can you win when you're down late? Because that's what it takes to be a dangerous team in March, and we're trying to become that team.
"I think it's a sign of growth, but we also need to minimize those situations."
And that growth was expected as Montana's trio of freshmen navigated conference play for the first time. Josh Vazquez started the first 10 games in league play, but he's come off the bench in the last three contests and has shot a combined 8 for 13 from the field, including a scorching 7 of 10 from deep. Kyle Owens provided a strong spark off the bench against Montana State while Derrick-Carter Hollinger has started the past three games for the Griz.
Those three, along with the growth of sophomore Mack Anderson and the addition of Jared Samuelson, have rounded out the veteran trio of Sayeed Pridgett, Kendal Manuel and Timmy Falls as Montana's primary eight-man rotation. As the season has progressed, this mix of players has gelled and adapted, a big reason why UM sits in first place.
"We've just been buying into what the coaches are saying," Anderson said. "Then Sayeed, Kendal, Timmy and Jared are just doing a great job of leading us along the way, too, and just learning each game and trying to get better each day."
While Pridgett and Manuel have usually been the scoring threats, Falls, who wows crowds with his passing and defense, has scored in double digits in five of Montana's past six matchups, as well.
Now as a unit, it's about fine-tuning everything with the remaining seven games ahead of the tournament in Boise.
"I feel like we're just taking it one game at a time right now. I think a lot of (the freshmen) realize how much it means to everyone," Anderson said. "They're buying into everything, too, so I think we just keep going and take it one game at a time."
"Just not being complacent and knowing we can still win games as long as we do it the right way and follow coach's plan," Pridgett added.