Jan 18, 2013 5:29 PM by Q2 Sports
BOZEMAN - Brad Huse knows all about the opponent his Montana State basketball team faces Saturday when it meets Big Sky-leading Montana in Missoula. He knows the Grizzlies have won 20 consecutive conference games, and have beaten the last 22 Big Sky teams that ventured into Dahlberg Arena.
He knows UM features two of the league's top seven scorers in forward Mathias Ward and guard Kareem Jamar, who along with their point production each contribute in a variety of ways statistically and otherwise. He also knows that one of the Big Sky's most talented players, Will Cherry, is quietly working his way back into form after missing the early portion of the season with an injury.
But he's more worried about what's going on with his team than the one the Cats face Saturday.
"As a team we're really bonding to one another and giving ourselves up for the team," Huse said of his still-young team, which features only four players that have competed in Dahlberg Arena previously. "I feel good about where we are as a unit. We're coming out of a stretch where we won four times in five games, and we're playing well at times."
Saturday's game shapes up as a crucial contest for both teams, transcending even the Cat-Griz rivalry. While Montana fights to keep pace with Weber State at the top of the league standings, the Bobcats are bunched with six other clubs - including Monday's opponent Southern Utah and next Saturday's foe Idaho State - with either three or four league losses. "We have a big stretch of four games coming up in eight days," Huse said, "so we need to be ready physically, and we need to keep our emotions in check and put the previous game in the rear view mirror.'
"It was a big week to prepare for Montana, but also to clean some things up on our end. We have a big stretch of four games coming up in the next eight days, so we need to be ready physically and we need to keep our emotions in check and put the previous game in the rear view mirror regardless of the circumstances.
Montana's seven-game league-only stats paint a picture that strikes fear in opponents. The Grizzlies shoot a 47% from the floor but hit 39% of their three-point shots and 75.5% of the team's charity tosses. UM has made five free throws more (123) in league play than its opponents have shot. Impressively, 63% of the team's field goals come from assists.
"Montana is a good team, that is a difficult place for an opponent to win a game," Huse said, emphasizing that he continues to appreciate the way his team is performing. "I like the way this team is playing for one another," he said. "They're playing for the team."
The Bobcat team enter Saturday's game for one of the few times all season with a full complement of players. Guard Antonio Biglow missed the previous five games while suspended for actions detrimental to the team, and he brings an offensive boost to a team that hast struggled on that end of the floor at times.
Defensively, though, the Bobcats have played their best basketball lately. In the three games before North Dakota's torrid shooting game on Saturday, MSU limited its three previous league opponents to 40.1% shooting. Even accounting for UND's 53% shooting last weekend and the tough NAU-Sac State road swing prior to Christmas, the Bobcats allow opponents to shoot 45% from the floor.
Tipoff is 7 pm for Saturday's Cat-Griz men's game.The women will tip off at 3 p.m. with first place in the Big Sky Conference riding on it.
Montana State (12-4, 6-1 BSC) took over sole possession of first place with a gritty 65-59 win at Southern Utah Thursday night. Montana (11-4, 5-1 BSC), which was off Thursday, sits a half game back.
The NCAA's RPI likes these two teams as well. Montana ranks No. 98 nationally, Montana State No. 103. They are the Big Sky's top-ranked teams in the RPI.
The case for Montana:
1) Montana is 8-1 at home this season, with only a 58-56 setback to Wyoming, which is currently 13-3, keeping the Lady Griz from being unbeaten. Montana is 460-54 (.895) at Dahlberg Arena under 35th-year coach Robin Selvig.
2) Montana is hot. Since losing to Villanova in the championship game of UNLV's tournament the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the Lady Griz are 8-2. The two losses were both two-point setbacks to Wyoming and Eastern Washington.
3) Montana may struggle shooting the ball, but the Lady Griz will not beat themselves, which is another way of saying they won't be sloppy with the ball and they won't give a game away on the defensive end because of a subpar performance.
Montana ranks second in the nation in fewest turnovers per game (11.3) and fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4). Defensively Montana is holding its Big Sky opponents to 33.0-percent shooting and has held its last five opponents to sub-32-percent shooting.
The case for Montana State:
1) This current group of Bobcats is not fazed by Montana's first point above. Montana State won in Missoula in both 2009-10, 77-72, and 2010-11, 72-69. Those two wins make up 40 percent of MSU's five all-time wins at Missoula.
2) Rachel Semansky. The Big Sky Conference MVP candidate (who is on the current watch list with Montana's Katie Baker, Northern Arizona's Amy Patton and Northern Colorado's D'shara Strange) is averaging 14.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game this season while shooting 59.5 percent. On Thursday she was at her best (i.e. bringing plenty to the table without taking much off) with a 15-point, 12-rebound double-double while taking just nine shots.
3) If there is any team hotter than Montana, it's Montana State. The Lady Griz have what could be called two bad losses, or games that make you say, "Well that wasn't very good." Temple 55, Montana 41 and Villanova 74, Montana 49. The Bobcats' four losses this season have come by a total of 16 points. Of course the 57-54 home loss to MSU Billings just after Christmas, when the Yellowjackets closed the game on 17-3 run, was a stinker, but four straight Big Sky wins have followed.
MSU's other losses this season: By one point at SMU, by eight points at home to Wyoming and by four points at home to Sacramento State.