MISSOULA — Pleased but not satisfied, Mike Oguine worked on his shooting.
The Montana Grizzlies’ junior guard stayed on the court after the end of Monday’s practice, putting up 3-point shots and free throws. Hours earlier, he had been named the Big Sky Conference defensive player of the year but landed on the all-conference second team.
He was one of three Griz to be recognized by the conference coaches for outstanding play throughout the season. Redshirt junior guard Ahmaad Rorie was named to the All-Big Sky first team, and redshirt junior forward Jamar Akoh earned third-team recognition.
Priding himself on defense since he was young, Oguine has largely been at the forefront of the Grizzlies’ resurgent, smothering play. While they’ve preached a team-oriented defensive approach, he was highlighted as the league’s top individual defender, an award he felt he could’ve won last year.
“I feel like I’ve always been someone who’s had high energy,” the 6-foot-2 guard said after finishing his 10-minute shooting session. “I feel like defense is a good place for me to release some of that energy. You can never play too hard on defense. You can never be too revved up. As long as you stay solid, I feel like good things will happen for you. It’s about keeping that aggression and playing hard, and defense is a great way to do that.”
With active hands and a good feel for where the ball is going, he’s the fourth Griz to win the defensive MVP award, which was created in 2003. He joins Bryan Ellis (2007), Brian Qvale (2011) and Will Cherry, who won in 2012 and 2013.
"I feel like defense, as an award in general, is hard to measure because there’s some times where you can play great defense and guys can still make shots or you can play OK defense and they end up missing shots," Oguine said. "I feel like the coaches voted on overall impact. I think I had times where I slipped up on defense, I wasn’t as great as I could have been. But for them to recognize (my play), it means a lot to me. It’s something to keep working towards."
Oguine is the only player in the conference to rank in the top 18 for points (15.9), rebounds (5.7) and steals (1.4), the last of which is fourth most in league play. He’s also second on the Griz for scoring, assists, blocks and rebounds.
“My main thing was really to try to speed up other opposing guards,” he said. “I don’t want to let people feel comfortable in their offense. I feel like I did a decent job of that this year, whether that’s pressuring the ball, ball handlers bringing the ball up the court. I just try to make people uncomfortable and get them out of rhythm.
“It’s not always about steals or blocks. It’s just about your presence on defense. I feel like that’s a really big thing.”
Rorie ranked in the top 10 among conference players for scoring (16.9), assists (3.7), steals (1.3) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.8) to earn first-team all-conference honors.
It’s his second all-conference honor in two seasons at Montana after he transferred from Oregon. He was named to the All-Big Sky second team last year as a redshirt sophomore, when he began to learn that he didn’t need to be the go-to guy every night.
“When you have other scorers on the team, you just know that you’re going to have to bring something else to the table,” Rorie said. “I just learned it last year. My first year here, Trav told me ‘Go be the best player on the floor.’ I just try to help guys get easy buckets and myself get buckets, too.”
The rest of the first team included unanimous selections in Eastern Washington senior guard/forward Bogdan Bliznyuk, Northern Colorado senior guard Andre Spight and Weber State sophomore guard Jerrick Harding. Idaho senior forward Brayon Blake rounded out the first team.
In addition to Oguine, the second team featured Montana State junior guard and preseason MVP Tyler Hall, Idaho senior guard Victor Sanders, North Dakota junior guard Geno Crandall and Sacramento State senior forward Justin Strings.
Akoh was named to the All-Big Sky third team, earning recognition as one of the league’s top post players in his first year playing for Montana after he transferred from Cal State Fullerton.
He was 14th in scoring (15.0), seventh in field-goal percentage (57.8), eighth in rebounds (7.0) and third in offensive rebounds (2.3) during conference play.
He felt he carried over the confidence he gained from a strong close to his sophomore year, even though he had to sit out a season. And while he showed he’s one of the Big Sky’s top 15 players, he has another award in mind.
“I’m more about the team awards,” Akoh said. “We won one championship already. This week we’ll have an opportunity to win another one. That’s the biggest thing for me.”
Also making the third team were Weber State senior guard Ryan Richardson, Weber State junior forward/center Zach Braxton, Northern Colorado junior guard Jordan Davis and Idaho State sophomore guard/forward Jared Stutzman.
The honorable mention group included Portland State senior forward Brandon Hollins, Portland State senior guard Bryce Canda, Eastern Washington sophomore forward Mason Peatling, Idaho State sophomore guard Brandon Boyd and Montana State sophomore guard Harald Frey.
Most Valuable Player: Eastern Washington’s Bogdan Bliznyuk
While the Griz won the conference title, their depth led to a tendency to share the ball and divvy up stats, lowering one player’s likelihood of winning MVP honors.
Bliznyuk, the Eagles’ 6-foot-6 senior from Ukraine, captured the award for the first time in his career. He was the only player to rank in the top five in scoring (22.2), rebounds (7.6) and assists (4.8) during conference games.
He surpassed 2,000 career points while helping the Eagles earn the third seed in the tournament by closing the season on a six-game winning streak.
He’s the fourth Eagle to win the award, joining Alvin Snow, Rodney Stuckey and Jacob Wiley.
He also picked up his school-record fifth player of the week award on Monday.
Newcomer of the Year: Northern Colorado’s Andre Spight
Spight was a constant scoring threat as a senior after he transferred from Arizona State and sat out last season.
He led all players with 25.2 points per game during league play. On the season, he averaged 22.1 points and made 97 3-pointers, both conference highs.
He was the only Big Sky player to score 40 or more points twice this season, putting up 40 and 41 points.
Freshman of the Year: Portland State’s Holland Woods
Woods was an electric presence, especially with the ball in his hands, while playing in the Vikings’ uptempo offense and full-court press.
During conference play, Woods led all league players in assists (5.6) and was second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2). He also ranked in the top 12 in steals (1.1) and free-throw percentage (81.4).
Top Reserve: Idaho State’s Brandon Boyd
Boyd was a versatile piece for the Bengals off the bench in the sixth-man role.
He ranked in the top 11 in scoring (17.0), assists (3.1), steals (1.2) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4) during conference games. He also averaged 4.9 rebounds per game.