All of a sudden, Montana might have found itself in a must-win scenario Saturday night as Idaho infiltrates Dahlberg Arena. Losers of three consecutive games, Montana has fallen from a share of the conference lead into a fifth-place with Montana State in the span of a week.
A defensive collapse was central to the Grizzlies losses to Portland State and Sacramento State, but Montana fell apart offensively in a loss to to Eastern Washington on Thursday at Dahlberg, the third loss the Grizzlies suffered at home this season. Without Ahmaad Rorie and Walter Wright, the team’s two leading scorers, Montana struggled to space the floor in the first half and relied heavily on the ability of Michael Oguine and Sayeed Pridgett to slash to the basket. The Griz scored just 27 first-half points and could never sustain enough offense — or slow down Eagles forward Bogdan Bliznyuk enough — to cut into Eastern’s halftime lead.
Following the game, DeCuire did not clarify why Rorie and Wright didn’t play, saying only that it was a coach’s decision. He also did not confirm whether the two players would be back for tonight’s game. Rorie and Wright offer a combined 28 points and six assists per game. They have also led the team in scoring in 15 of the Grizzlies’ 21 games.
In Montana’s win over Idaho in early January, Wright was a non factor, missing all six of his shots. But Rorie’s 11 first-half points helped the Griz take an early lead and control the game throughout.
Since that loss, Idaho has regained the services of Brayon Blake, who missed the Jan. 5 matchup with a minor injury. Since his return Blake has scored in double figures in five of six games including a 20-point outburst in the Vandals’ double-overtime loss at Montana on Thursday. His addition to the lineup has provided the Vandals a capable sidekick for their leading scorer, Victor Sanders. Sanders has been especially efficient in the last three games, needing just 43 shots to score 68 points.
Idaho had won three straight before falling to the Bobcats, and are just a half-game behind the Montana schools in the Big Sky Conference standings.
Other key information:
Montana is ranked No. 189 in the kenpom.com rankings and is No. 203, third in the Big Sky, in ESPN RPI rankings.
Idaho led by ninth-year coach Don Verlin, is ranked No. 264 in the kenpom.com rankings and is No. 288, seventh in the Big Sky, in the ESPN RPI rankings.
When: Saturday, 7 p.m. MDT
Where: Dahlberg Arena (7,500)
Radio: KGVO 101.5 FM
Series: Idaho leads, 108-86 (gogriz.com)
Last: 2016, Montana handcuffed a short-handed Vandals squad during a 70-57 win on Jan. 5
kenpom Prediction: Montana 76 percent (Montana, 71-64)
G – Ahmaad Rorie, 6-1, So., 17.6 ppg
G – Michael Oguine, 6-2, So., 10.5 ppg
F – Jack Lopez, 6-6, Sr., 7.2 ppg
F – Fabijan Krslovic, 6-8, Jr., 7.5 ppg
G – Victor Sanders, 6-5, Jr., 19.6 ppg
G – Chad Sherwood, 6-2, Jr., 5.4 ppg
C – Arkadiy Mkrtychyan, 6-7, Jr., 5.6
F – Nate Sherwood, 6-8, So., 6.1 ppg
F – Jordan Scott, 6-6, Jr., 4.6 ppg
Photos by Brooks Nuanez or noted. All Rights Reserved.