GREELEY, Colo. - The Montana Grizzlies call it their 13 cross.
It's a 1-3-1 three-quarter-court trapping zone defense.
Thirteen was the Grizzlies' lucky number Thursday night.
The Griz went to the 13 cross after falling behind by seven points in the second half to the young Northern Colorado Bears. The defense resulted in 12 of the Bears' 27 turnovers and sparked the Griz to their seventh straight win, a 75-68 decision in front of 1,419 fans at Butler-Hancock Pavilion.
Montana's 13th win in its last 14 games moved it to 11-1 in the Big Sky Conference, 18-6 overall, and kept it tied with Weber State atop the standings. Northern Colorado remained in seventh place at 4-8, 7-16.
Will Cherry wasn't entirely a one-man wrecking crew, but he was close. The Grizzlies' junior point guard registered a career-high 30 points and came up with eight steals, one off his career best. Sophomore Kareem Jamar overcame first-half foul trouble to finish with 12 points and five assists, and senior Derek Selvig had 12 points and four helpers.
"We were responsible for half of their points," UNC coach BJ Hill said, pointing to the Grizzlies' 36-6 advantage in points off turnovers. "They obviously cranked up the pressure, but it was more a lack of our toughness both mentally and physically than something they did."
That said, Hill acknowledged Cherry's leadership.
"Will's an unbelievable player; he's as good as I've seen in the Big Sky in my six years," Hill said. "He looked like an all-conference guy against a bunch of freshmen. That's what, in my opinion, first team all-conference players do."
The Grizzlies' sixth Big Sky road win in seven tries didn't come easily despite UNC's miscues, although it looked like a blowout early. Montana hit 8 of its first 9 shots - 5 for 5 from 3-point range - to open a 25-13 lead not even eight minutes into the game.
But UNC senior Mike Proctor scored 11 of his team-high 18 points during a 19-3 run that gave the Bears a 32-28 lead with 2:28 to play before intermission. Montana missed 10 straight shots at one point during that run.
"We came out in the first half and got up 12 early," Cherry said. "That kind of killed us. We hit five threes and we got a little greedy. We were kids in a candy shop and we kept taking them. They came back, though, and we started missing. They were taking it to us and got back in the game."
"What I was impressed with was getting 10 stops in a row," Hill said. "We showed we could take a punch and come back. We executed really well and did what we practiced."
Cherry scored the Grizzlies' final four points of the half to give them a 36-35 lead at the break.
"We told the guys we were making shots, but look to attack," Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said. "We did settle, but under the circumstances to be up one at half with Kareem on the bench with two fouls and other guys not playing to their best, we were in good position. Defensively, we didn't play with the same edge that we have."
The Griz quickly found themselves down seven, 46-39, when Paul Garnica buried a trey with 15:24 to play. That's when Tinkle went to the 13 cross.
"The second half they came out and hit us," Cherry said. "We came back and counter-punched, counter-punched, and they came right back. The last 10 minutes we switched to cross and started to generate turnovers. That's how we got our lead up and once we got our lead, we never relinquished it."
The Griz went ahead for good at 59-58 on a 3-pointer by Cherry, then reeled off the next eight points to open a 67-58 bulge. Jamar had a pair of treys in the burst. A steal and a slam by Cherry, followed by a Cherry floater gave the Griz a 75-61 cushion with 1:51 remaining and sealed it.
"Montana did what good programs and what teams playing for championships do - they counter-punched," Hill said. "They cranked up their intensity. That's the next step our young team needs to learn how to do."
And Mathias Ward limited Proctor to just seven points after intermission.
"He's a really good player," Ward said of Proctor. "He's good at getting the ball, facing you up, going one way and spinning back another; a lot of counter moves. What we talked about at halftime is that I walled up too soon, so he was able to use angles to score. In the second half I tried to gap him a little bit more."
With just one road game left on their schedule, Saturday night at Sacramento State, you'd think the Griz might see a little light at the end of the tunnel. Not so, says Cherry.
"There's no light yet, not until we play Weber State and we're both 14-1 and we beat them and we get to host the tournament; that's the only time I'll see light at the end of the tunnel," Cherry said. "Right now we're focused on one game at a time. We're not satisfied with a split. We have Sac State ... they're going to be a tough team at their house."
NOTES: Cherry moved past ISU's Jim Rhode and into 10th place on the league's all-time steals list with 201. He's now just 14 off the UM school record set by JR Camel (1995-98). ... Cherry's 30 points gave him 1,065 for his career, moving him past Jeremy Lake (1,036 from 1991-95), Mike Warhank (1,046 from 1996-2000), Brian Qvale (1,046 from 2007-11) and Roger Fasting (1,047 from 1987-92) and into 20th on the all-time list. He's just five behind No. 19 Scott Zanon (1983-87) and six behind No. 18 Craig Zanon (1977-81).
Sports editor Bob Meseroll can be reached at 523-5265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|NORTHERN COLORADO (68)|
|Technical foul: Henderson.|
|Halftime score: Montana 36, Northern Colorado 35.|
|3-point goals: UM 10-18 (Jamar 3-5, Cherry 3-6, Selvig 2-3, Ward 1-1, Steward 1-2, Stockton 0-1), UNC 6-11 (Unruh 3-6, Svihovec 1-1, Garnica 1-2, Huskisson 1-1, Addo 0-1).|
|Turnovers: UM 11 (Cherry 4), UNC 27 (Huskisson 5).|
|Blocked shots: UM 0, UNC 4 (Osborne 2).|
|Steals: UM 13 (Cherry 8), UNC 3 (Proctor 3).|
|Officials: Jason Hinch, Wilson Holland, Jon Stigliano.|