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Montana's Josh Vazquez evolving into late-game catalyst with crunch-time shots

Josh Vazquez
Posted at 6:48 PM, Dec 21, 2020

MISSOULA -- Three times this season, Josh Vazquez has found himself with the ball late for the Montana men's basketball team in a critical moment.

The result each opportunity? Points.

Just a sophomore for Montana, Vazquez has embraced -- and thrived -- in his new role as the guy head coach Travis DeCuire and the Griz look to when they need a big bucket late.

But that role isn't new for Vazquez, who said he experienced similar situations at Bishop Montgomery High School when growing up in Torrance, California.

"In high school, my coach trusted me to shoot those shots and he ran a couple of plays for me here and there," Vazquez explained. "And it's just a lot of being in the gym and just knowing that your coach trusts you to take those shots and then having confidence to knock them down."

Vazquez's first two chances came in both road games against Southern Utah. Trailing by three, Vazquez ran off of a screen and knocked down a 3-pointer to tie it 63-63 with 31 seconds left.

Like clockwork, it happened again in the second matchup between the Big Sky Conference foes. Vazquez ran off of another screen, was found on the inbounds pass from Cam Parker and tied the game 74-74 on another 3-pointer with 9.7 seconds remaining. The Griz ended up losing both games on late free throws by SUU.

After those two disappointing outcomes for Montana, Vazquez saw his work spur a win when the Griz beat Washington last Wednesday. Trailing by two, Vazquez knocked down another 3-pointer that gave Montana a 54-53 lead with 3:32 to play, which ultimately began a 10-0 Griz run with Vazquez scoring seven of those points.

"It's just the confidence level knowing that I'm going to be the one taking those shots," Vazquez said. "It's just like muscle memory at that point. When I'm catching the ball I'm not really thinking about it, I just know I have to get it up and then all of the reps I get in practice and stuff like that, that helps out big time."

Vazquez has grown into his new role with Montana similar to last season. Thrown into the fire as a freshman, he played more than 25 minutes per game but saw more of a role as a point guard with the ball in his hands and creating for others. This season, Vazquez still plays point guard and creates, but he has seen an uptick in minutes where he plays off of the ball, comes off of screens and looks for his own shot.

"Guys have to go into new roles and accept those roles and the ones who can do it quickly have success, and he's one of those guys converting more off the ball in more of his minutes and obviously coming off of screens and things like that," DeCuire said. "I think he was always confident in those areas. We knew that's where he was more comfortable so that was part of the reason that we made that shift early. As opposed to waiting until we played games, we started that transition this summer."

Montana (3-4) is currently riding a three-game winning streak. The Griz take on the Arizona Wildcats on Tuesday for their final non-conference game of the season.

Going forward, Vazquez will continue to settle into his role and even compares it to what former Griz Kendal Manuel brought to the table during his time at UM.

"I look back and I kind of think of myself in Kendal Manuel's role," Vazquez said. "He played the two and he was one of the shooters, so I kind of throw myself into that spot and I'm just trying to do what he did because he was a great player."