MISSOULA -- The Montana Grizzlies are coming off a big win over the rival Montana State Bobcats on Saturday after dropping two games in a row and falling out of the top spot in the Big Sky Conference standings. The Griz now have a chance to regain the top spot as they'll host the Eastern Washington Eagles on Thursday night.
While EWU currently sits atop the Big Sky standings, Montana actually handed it one of its two conference losses in the 2019-20 season. Not only did Montana win on the road in Cheney, Wash., it beat the Eagles in convincing fashion, taking it 90-63.
Now the two teams will face off Thursday night in Dahlberg Arena with the winner coming out on top of the standings. While UM coach Travis DeCuire says the Jan. 9 win was the best the team has played all year, the Griz know it'll be a different type of ball game this time around.
"Coaches said it's not going to be the same out there when we played them at their place," said Montana senior Timmy Falls. "So, I think we just have to come in, we've got to respect our opponents even if we beat them by 27. They are going to come with their A-game, so we need to come with ours, as well."
"You just have to remind yourself that you just can't expect it to be the same way," said DeCuire. "I would never use the word easy because it wasn't easy, we played harder in that game then we played all year. We were more in tune and engaged together than we had been all year. And that's sort of difficult to reenact. So, therefore you have to anticipate a tougher game. They are going to be better. I think our guys know and they respect them enough to show up and bring their best game."
Montana is coming off a fantastic shooting performance against the Bobcats on Saturday night. While the Bobcats are the Grizzlies' natural rival, the Eagles have easily become one of Montana's top foes in the conference. The two teams have met in the championship game of the Big Sky Conference tournament the past two seasons, with Montana taking both of those titles.
"I think definitely we have two rivals, them (EWU) and Montana State," said Falls. "So, every time we play them it's a good matchup and we're excited every time we play them."
"I think the biggest thing for us is the opportunity for a tie-breaker," said DeCuire. "We've had quite a few moments here where we've come down where one game has separated teams going into the last game of the season. Win or lose, you could be in a tie, whether it's second, third, fourth or whatever. You want to own as many tie-breakers as possible, and a sweep would put us in that situation."
Not only is this an important game that could have implications in the end-of-theseason tournament, it comes when teams can start to see fatigue and possibly even hit a wall, something that doesn't concern DeCuire with this year's team.
"You have to enjoy the process, that's why you play," said DeCuire. "It can't just be about the games, right? But that's hard. It takes discipline, you know, a lot of your character comes out in that situation. I think the biggest thing for us is that we know we are playing for something. I think it's a lot more difficult for teams that aren't in the hunt. So, if we keep ourselves in the hunt, it won't be an issue."
Montana (12-10 overall, 8-3 conference) and Eastern Washington (15-6, 8-2) tip off at 7 p.m. Thursday.