Big Sky men's basketball tournament

Montana outlasts Idaho, earns quarterfinal matchup with Weber State


BOISE, Idaho — The story of Montana’s season has centered upon long second-half scoring droughts that have helped UM’s opponents get back into games. And often times, the Griz came out on the wrong end of close Big Sky Conference contests.

When the Grizzlies went more than eight minutes without a field goal down the stretch against bottom seeded Idaho, it seemed like the trend might extend.

The sixth-seeded Griz built a 15-point lead with less than eight minutes to play against the one-win Vandals. Then Montana went cold.

Montana did not make a field goal in the final eight minutes, 12 seconds of the game. But the Griz scored 10 points at the free throw line and got the stops they needed to emerge with a 69-64 win over Idaho in the final game of the first round of the Big Sky Tournament here on Wednesday.

Montana seventh-year head coach Travis DeCuire/ by Brooks Nuanez

“Hard-fought victory,” Montana seventh-year head coach Travis DeCuire said. “Idaho did what they’ve done all year, really. They played a lot of teams close and just have not found a way to pull off Ws. And we flirted with a lot of games down the stretch.

“It was a gritty win and we will take them how we get them.”

The victory helps Montana advance to Thursday’s quarterfinals against third-seeded Weber State. UM and Weber State split during the regular-season in Missoula with Montana earning an 80-67 win in the first game before Weber answered with a 91-82 win less than two days later. Thursday’s final quarterfinal gets underway at 8 p.m.

Idaho raced out to an 11-2 lead, ushering anxiety among the smattering of Griz faithful at Idaho Central Arena who likely watched the UM women’s basketball team suffer a historic upset to 11th-seeded Sac State on Monday.

But Josh Vazquez caught fire, hitting three 3-pointers to spark a 14-3 run that helped the Griz take the lead for good.

Vazquez, who finished with a career-high 21 points, knocked down his fifth 3-pointer with 8:12 left in the game. On the next possession, Vazquez knocked down two free throws to give Montana a 60-45 lead with 7:53 left, the biggest gap of the afternoon.

“We had patience after that initial run,” Vazquez said. “Once we started not settling for one shot, we started moving it around, getting in the paint and we got into a rhythm and flow.”

Idaho strung together stops thereafter, methodically chipping away at UM’s lead. DeAndre Robinson’s lay-up with 31 seconds left shaved the deficit to 65-62. But Vazquez hit a pair of free throws while true freshmen Brandon Whitney and Robby Beasley III hit one freebie each to keep the Vandals’ upset bid at bay.

Montana sophomore Josh Vazquez scored a career-high 21 points against Idaho / By Brooks Nuanez

UM had its final regular-season series cancelled when Idaho had Covid-19 issues within its program. The Griz had recently earned its first sweep of the season, winning twice at Idaho State. Instead of taking a nearly two-week break leading into this week’s BSC men’s basketball tournament, Montana hammered Warner Pacific twice.

“This was different, especially when you are talking about tournament play but the whole season has been like that,” DeCuire said when asked about playing a team for the first time in the tournament. “And for us, I only had one guy on my roster (junior Mack Anderson) that has played in a conference tournament game. So this was a learning experience for all of us. And for us to come out with a win is huge.”

An Idaho team that features four seniors but won just one game this season did not back down to the team that has claimed the most recent two Big Sky Tournament titles. Senior big man Scott Blakney led Idaho with 17 points and eight rebounds in his final college game. Chance Garvin hit all four of his 3-point attempts on the way to 12 points. And Robinson finished with 10 points.


“They were physical and they were very confident,” DeCuire said. “They did what they do. They don’t make a lot of mistakes. We had to force some things to our advantage. They fought like seniors would.”

Whitney and Beasley, two of seven Grizzlies who made their Big Sky Tournament debuts on Wednesday, finished with 13 and 12 points, respectively.

“To be honest, I was a little spooked at the beginning,” Beasley said with a laugh.

Now the Grizzlies get another shot at Weber State, a program Montana has haunted for more than a decade. WSU 15th-year head coach Randy Rahe is one of the league’s most decorated and successful coaches. But he has struggled to beat Montana, particularly in the postseason.

Montana has eliminated Weber State six times since 2010, including beating the Wildcats in the Big Sky Tournament championship game three times, although Weber did beat UM in the 2016 championship game the last time the two teams played for the title.

In the most recent postseason matchup in 2019, UM ripped Weber 78-49 in the tournament semifinals.

“A lot of our preparation is based on what we’ve seen recently rather than what happened against us,” DeCuire said. “I think Idaho made a lot of changes between today and what we would’ve seen a week ago.

“We have to do the same thing against Weber State. There are some guys in different roles since the last time we played. We will look to change a couple of things but be as consistent as we can as a team.”

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.

Montana forward Kyle Owens (0) shoots a three vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho forward Scott Blakney (34) shoots in the lane vs. Montana/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana guard Robby Beasley III (5) shoots a three vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho guard Ja’Vary Christmas (1) attacks the hoop vs. Montana/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana forward Mack Anderson (23) goes up for a dunk against Idaho/ by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho head coach Zac Claus/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana guard Brandon Whitney (12) attacks the rim and is fouled by Idaho guard Damen Thacker (2)/by Brooks Nuanez

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

Recommended for you