Game Recap

Weber State offensive explosion helps Wildcats earn split in Missoula

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As the Big Sky Conference navigates a schedule like never before, Travis DeCuire has proven his team is prepared entering the first game of each weekend.

It’s the rematch on Saturdays that have given the Grizzlies so much trouble.

On Thursday of this week, DeCuire once again had his team tuned up with one of the league’s best teams in Missoula. Montana put forth one of its best performances this season, smothering the league’s best scoring offense and besting surging Weber State, 80-67.

That win was Montana’s fifth in six league games played on Thursdays. Under the new Covid-influenced format, teams play consecutive times less than 48 hours apart.

And on Saturday in the rematch, the same struggles continued to haunt the Grizzlies. After largely no-showing on Thursday, Weber State all-conference caliber point guard Isiah Brown exerted his will, pouring in 21 points on just eight field goal attempts to pace a lethal Weber State offensive attack that shot 62.2 percent on the way to a 91-82 victory at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula on Saturday afternoon.

“A successful 80 minutes are hard to come by right now in conference but really – and all do respect to Weber State, they are on the top of the standings for a reason because they responded very well and made some good adjustments,” DeCuire said.

“We pressured them out of their offense and forced a lot of turnovers, didn’t let the ball go side to side and today, they didn’t really try to go side to side, and drew a lot of fouls.”

The loss drops Montana to 0-6 on Saturdays during conference action and 5-7 in league play overall. The loss total ties the most during a season under DeCuire’s seven seasons at the helm for his alma mater. With a home-and-home against Eastern Washington upcoming, Montana sits in eighth place in the 11-team Big Sky.

“You just have to keep grinding,” DeCuire said. “We have a very inexperienced basketball team. When you play someone twice in the span of less than 48 hours, the game is never going to be the same than it was the first time. Now you are making adjustments but you don’t know what adjustments they make because there is no film of watching them play six or seven more games and then play them again.

“The team that can handle change on the fly the most is the team that is going to be successful. Right now, we are too inexperienced. We have shown signs of getting better but we aren’t there yet.”

Brown was one of five Wildcats who scored in double figures. Reigning Big Sky Player of the Week Seikou Sisoho Jawara shook off a tough second half Thursday and a tough first half Saturday to score 13 points on just four field goal attempts.

Big man Dontay Bassett scored 13, as did reserve forwards Michal Kozak and Dillon Jones. WSU converted 28 of its 45 field goal attempts, but the biggest advantage for the visitors came at the charity stripe.

Weber State shot 38 free throws and made 30 of them, including a perfect 7-of-7 effort from Brown and an 8-of-10 performance from Jawara. Montana missed only one of its 22 free throw attempts but that nine-pointe disparity proved to be the final difference.

“They made shots and we didn’t. They got foul calls and we didn’t,” DeCuire said. “In all honesty, they hit some open 3s and made them. We didn’t. They got to the paint, shot shots, got to the free throw line. We didn’t.

“Thursday’s game was a lot more physical and there was a lot of 50/50 calls where the whistle just didn’t blow, whether they were contested at the rim or not. We played through it. Today, no one played through any of that.”

For the second straight game, junior Cam Parker was the catalyst for the Griz offense. The former transfer from Sacred Heart scored 15 points for the second straight game, including hitting a 3-pointer with 53 seconds left to cut the gap to 84-80. Parker also finished the game with seven assists, giving him 13 this weekend as Montana surpassed 80 points for the first two times all season.

Josh Vazquez scored a season-high 17 points, including hitting three of his six tires from beyond the arc. Two days after pouring in a career-high 27 points, Kyle Owens had 12 points, including 10 after halftime. Freshmen Brandon Whitney and Josh Bannan each scored 10 for the Griz.

“We are starting to figure it out as a team offensively,” Vazquez said. “Our big thing is attacking together. We are getting the good looks we want and we are sharing the ball.

“We are far enough along where we know what we want defensively but the tough breakdowns, the long stretches, we can’t have them. That brings us down. I just think we have to fix some of those things and we will be good. It’s a roller coaster we have been on.”

But none of it was good enough to keep up with an offense that is scoring nearly 87 points per game, one of the top 10 averages in the country. WSU surpassed 90 points for the fifth time this season and moved to 11-0 when scoring at least 80 points.

“We didn’t bring the defensive intensity we had on Thursday,” Parker said. “We weren’t really talking to each other. It’s kind of our defensive principles were worst. They scored 80 points and that’s their magic number. They’ve won all their games when they score that much. We were trying to limit them to that but it clearly didn’t happen.”

The sweep moves Weber State to 7-3 in league play and 12-5 overall. The Wildcats had a five-game winning streak snapped on Thursday but won for the fourth time in Missoula in 19 games under 15th-year head coach Randy Rahe. WSU sits in a tie with Idaho State for third place in league play, although Weber has more wins than second-place Southern Utah (6-2). The Wildcats host NAU next weekend.

“Weber State is a really good team and it’s hard to beat a good team twice no matter where you are,” Parker said. “I just think we don’t have the energy we have on Thursdays on Saturdays. Whether that’s the one day or rest compared to four days of practice, I really couldn’t tell you.”

The Griz play in Cheney, Washington against the lead-leading Eagles of Eastern Washington. Montana beat EWU in the last two Big Sky Tournament games in 2018 and 2019 to advance to the two most recent NCAA Tournaments. Although EWU went 16-4 in league play last season and won the outright regular-season title, Montana swept the Eagles. The last five times the two teams have played, the action has nearly reached a boiling point with physical play, extra-curricular activities and a few technical and flagrant fouls.

“We just have to pick up from what we did these last two games,” Vazquez said. “I think it will be a little bit similar but we have to take it to them and be physical. It’s another really good team so we have to put two and two together to come out with a sweep.”

Photos courtesy of Montana athletics. All Rights Reserved.

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.

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