The annual showdown for in-state bragging rights hits the hardwood at Dahlberg Arena on Saturday, as the Montana Grizzlies host the Montana State Bobcats for the 294th time in school history on Saturday, Feb. 4.
Tipoff for the Griz-Cat showdown is set for 7:00 p.m., and serves as the night cap on a full day of cross-state hoops, with the Lady Griz hosting the Bobcats at 2 p.m.
The 2017 Brawl of the Wild is presented by Northwestern Energy, Town Pump Food Stores, and BlueCross BlueShield of Montana.
THE GAME: The Griz (10-13, 5-5 BSC) enter the game with a big feather in their cap, seeking the program’s thirteenth straight victory over the Bobcats (11-12, 6-4 BSC). Thirteen-straight is a big streak, but there are two other streaks UM is more concerned with: four losses and five wins.
While the Brawl of the Wild needs no added importance, the first matchup of the season between the two rivals carries the weight of a four-game slide for the Griz, their longest Big Sky losing streak since the 2003-04 season.
Conversely, the Bobcats are white-hot, entering the game on a Big Sky-best five game win streak, and fresh of a pair of confidence-boosting overtime wins over Idaho and Eastern Washington.
With two different trains heading in two seemingly different directions set to collide at the Adams Center on Saturday, calling this an important game is putting it mildly.
“This is a big opportunity for us to, one, to get back in the W column, and two, to make a statement. They’re going to come and bring their A game, so we better have ours,” said Grizzly head coach Travis DeCuire.
“They’ve done a good job over there, so we have respect for them. But we need this W. The Griz need this W. I’m excited about it.”
It’s rivalry basketball at its best. The calendar may say February, but for the Griz, March Madness starts now. Who wouldn’t be excited?
WATCH/LISTEN: The Brawl of the Wild can be seen across the state over the airwaves, on your cable box, and on your computer.
If you have rabbit ears on your TV, the game can be seen on ABC channel 23.3 in Missoula, 5.3 in Great Falls, 21.3 in Helena, 18.3 in Butte, 28.3 in Bozeman and 8.2 in Billings.
If you are a Charter cable subscriber, SWX Montana will carry the game on channel 199, except in Billings, where SWX is carried by Charter on channel 503.
Carl Arky will have the play-by-play alongside analyst and former Griz head coach Don Holst. Shaun Rainey will also provide sideline reports, including a halftime interview with Griz football head coach Bob Stitt.
You can also point your internet browser to WatchBigSky.com, or download the Watch Big Sky mobile app for a live stream available globally as well.
The Montana Grizzly Radio Network will provide the statewide radio broadcast featuring the “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran. Live stats are available at GrizStats.com, and live Tweets are available at @UMGRIZZLIES_BB.
Heads up: KGVO, the flagship station of the Montana Grizzly Radio Network, has moved down the dial in the Missoula market. Formerly, Griz games could be heard on 101.5 FM. You can now catch the action on 98.3 FM and AM 1290.
FUN STUFF: Saturday’s game is a MAROON OUT. Be sure to support your Griz, and blanket Dahlberg Arena in a sea of maroon.
SERIES HISTORY: A little extra motivation for the Griz: Montana has a chance to tie the all-time series with the Bobcats on Saturday, with MSU leading the century-old rivalry 146-147.
BRAWL OF THE WILD: More Griz motivation: Montana State currently leads Montana 4-2 in the 2017-17 edition of the Brawl of the Wild series. Montana has won the trophy that measures overall head-to-head wins in each sport for the last three years, every season since its inception.
LAST MATCHUP: Montana picked up a sweep over the Cats in the ’15-’16 season in Missoula when Michael Oguine and Brandon Gfeller combined for 51 points, including a career-high for the then-true freshman Oguine with 27.
Montana State received a big performance by a true freshman of its own in that game, with guard Tyler Hall sinking a game-high 30 points.
This season, Hall has become the nation’s fourth-best scorer, averaging 23.3 points per game. Oguine has been a one-man highlight reel for the Griz since returning from injury, now averaging 11.4 PPG and scoring in double figures in seven of the last eight games.
The battle between Oguine and Hall should be worth the price of admission alone on Saturday.
IMPLICATIONS: With Thursday’s Big Sky action still to impact the league standings, Saturday’s Brawl of the Wild game has a must-win feel for the Griz, who currently sit at No. 6 on the conference table, with the Cats sitting in position for a first-round tournament bye at No. 4.
For DeCuire and the Montana staff, however, this game is as much of a must-win as every game remaining on the calendar as they prepare their squad for peak performance at the conference tourney in Reno.
“You want to play with desperation every night, and that’s what we’re trying to teach our guys. You can’t say, ok we’ve lost three in a row, so we have to be desperate tonight. We need to learn how to be desperate every night, every practice, every time we walk in the gym to get shots, every time we walk in the classroom, every time we get on the bus, every time we go in for treatment. You have to live with desperation if you want to be successful,” DeCuire said.
“Griz feel like they should win every game against the Cats. Why would we think any differently? We could be playing water polo, and we’re still going to feel that way. So, it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal to me because I bleed for the Griz, but at the same time, you’ve got to have respect for your opponent. So, it’s a big game. They’ll be excited to come here on a win streak. We have a streak on them, and they’re going to want to put an end to it.”
GRIZ TRACKS: Defense will be on the mind of the Grizzlies as they make final preparations for the Bobcats on the practice court.
Montana has still not lost a game when holding opponents to less than 70 points. During UM’s four-game slide, the Griz have given up an average of 84 points.
MSU is on a five-game run for a reason, however, as the Cats enter the gym on Saturday averaging 80 PPG. But MSU is also giving up 79 points per game, and scoring is something the Griz have been improving on as of late. In the last six games, the Griz are averaging 77 PPG, and have are scoring over 75 in conference play.
With both teams loaded with explosive guards, defense on the perimeter will be especially critical. The Cats are putting up the Big Sky’s third best percentage from behind the arc at over 37 percent and lead the league in made threes at 10 per game. But the Griz have the league’s third-best three-point defense, holding teams to 35 percent. If the old adage that “defense wins championships” rings true, the arc at Dahlberg Arena will be a key place for the Griz to start.
Offensively, the emergence of Oguine and Sayeed Pridgett from slumps has been critical to the Griz as they seek to find the right combinations of scoring prowess, aided by Ahmaad Rorie‘s team-high 17.3 PPG.
“We needed to get Mike going. We needed to find ways to get him shots in the half court. Sayeed had been a slump too, and we had to get him going. Now he’s had some stretches where he was showing his best form,” said DeCuire.
“To get those two guys going, and to get Walter (Wright) and Ahmaad back in rhythm, we should be tough to handle.”