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Montana ready to put winning streak on line against Montana State

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Posted at 2:30 PM, Feb 21, 2020

MISSOULA -- Jared Samuelson always knew what the Cat-Griz rivalry was about.

As the son of former University of Montana basketball player Shawn Samuelson, Jared grew up watching Cat-Griz games firsthand before ultimately playing in two in 2016-17, his redshirt freshman season with the Grizzlies.

Of course, Samuelson's journey took him back to his hometown of Billings to play at Rocky Mountain College for two seasons, where he blossomed into a star at the NAIA level. But after coming full circle and rejoining UM as a grad transfer for his final college year, Samuelson got the chance to experience the Cat-Griz rivalry once again as a player back on Feb. 1 when UM met MSU in Missoula. The Griz won 78-64 in the first meeting.

"The first time I played in it back when I was a freshman here, yeah, it was a lot different than watching it," Samuelson said. "The atmosphere was crazy, honestly. You have fans yelling the whole time, pretty much sold-out arena, so it was awesome. It felt really good to play in the rivalry. I've been watching the games every year since I was a little kid, so playing in them, it's surreal."

Now, its UM's turn to travel as the Griz (16-10 overall, 12-3 Big Sky Conference) head to Bozeman to take on the Bobcats (14-12, 8-7) on Saturday at 7 p.m.

Montana's win over MSU kick-started its current five-game winning streak, a stretch that has seen the Grizzlies jump back up to the top spot in the Big Sky Conference standings.

Montana State had won three of its four games after that loss, but on Thursday the Bobcats fell at Portland State 87-77. Even more concerning for MSU, star point guard Harald Frey appeared to injure his ankle and was subbed out of the game with 18:16 to play and did not return. His status will be one to monitor as Saturday's game approaches.

Frey's impact is well known, though. Prior to his injury, Montana coach Travis DeCuire spoke at length about just how good Frey has been for the Bobcats.

"He's among the better guards (in this league)," DeCuire said. "We've had a lot of good guards in this league, though. Player of the year has typically been guards. And so quite a few guys have scored a ton of points and generated a lot of offense and won a lot of games. I'd rank him up there with the maybe the top 10 guys we've played against in my six years that have put up numbers.

"I think they do a good job of moving him around. At the end of the day it's still him making a play for others -- ball screens or throwing it in to (Jubrile) Belo for the most part. For a guy like him, for the most part, I think it's hard to shoot for a percentage when you don't have Tyler Hall next to you, and so you're just generating all of the offense and it wears you down over 30 games, and he's shown signs of that wear and tear but he still has good games. I think he's had a tough task, maybe tougher than most of the guys in our league."

Frey scored 37 points against Montana on Feb. 1. He went 7 for 14 from 3-point range and 12 for 15 from the free throw line.

UM guard Timmy Falls' status is still up in the air after also suffering a lower leg injury against Idaho State last Saturday. He had 10 points and four assists against the Bobcats.

Both Belo and Samuelson dealt with foul trouble the first go-around between these two teams. Sayeed Pridgett had 24 points for Montana while true freshman Kyle Owens provided a large spark off the bench for the Grizzlies with 14 points in the win.

Montana dealt with 17 first-half fouls, as well, something it will look to avoid again. But DeCuire saw Montana start to play more completely on the offensive and defensive side of the ball in that win, something UM has done a lot more consistently of late and a trend he wants to see continue on Saturday.

"The biggest thing for us in all these games is field goal percentage, offense and defense," DeCuire said. "We held them below 40 (percent), we shot over 50. Whether one guy scores 30 or not is not as big of a deal if the team is not making shots or scoring at a high level. For us, big picture, if we can do that again and hold them in the high 30s and shoot over 50 I think we're in a good spot."

"We just have to go in and do our thing," Samuelson added. "We've been taking it one game at a time and right now we're just focusing on this game. It's going to be a big game, big crowd. It's going to be a sweet environment so we're excited and looking forward to it."