MISSOULA — Montana guard Mike Oguine could’ve come in handy during the 2016 season opener against USC in Los Angeles.
The Griz built an early 14-3 lead against the Trojans and trailed by four points at the half. They lacked depth, and things got out of hand when they fell behind by double digits in final seven minutes of a 75-61 loss.
Oguine was sidelined with a hand injury and was disappointed because he felt he could've helped the team pull off the upset. He was also down because he missed his first opportunity to play a Pac-12 team in his hometown against old friends and in front of his family.
“It sucked,” Oguine said after a recent practice. “It was tough.”
The guard from southern California has played games locally at mid-major Pepperdine and will finally get to play on the big stage in Los Angeles when Montana takes on UCLA at 9 p.m. Wednesday at historic Pauley Pavilion.
The Bruins are ranked No. 23 nationally in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
“It means a lot to me, but it’s just another game we have to win,” Oguine said. “I don’t want to make it all about me, but I’m definitely going to try to play my best to represent.”
Oguine starred at Chaminade Prep High School in Chatsworth, California, which is about 20 miles northwest of UCLA. He helped lead the Eagles to the California Division III state title as a junior and to the semifinals of the Southern California Division IV regional tournament as a senior.
He grew up as a UCLA fan because that’s where his mom, Debra, had gone to school, he said.
His oldest sister, Stephanie, went to school at USC and took him to the 2011 USC football game against Stanford when he was a freshman in high school, he said. Even though Stanford and quarterback Andrew Luck beat USC and quarterback Matt Barkley 56-48 in triple overtime, he was becoming a USC fan because he was excited for his sister, his first sibling to attend college.
He never received offers from USC or UCLA to play basketball, and he chose Montana over scholarships from Harvard, Santa Clara and UC Davis. In his first year at Montana, he scored the second-most points by a true freshman in school history.
He was excited to play USC to open his sophomore season, but he broke the third metacarpal in his right hand during an early October scrimmage. He didn’t return until Nov. 27.
“I wasn't able to use my shooting hand for almost two months,” Oguine said. “I felt like I had to learn to play all over again.”
He had an adjustment period when he returned, but he was named to the All-Big Sky third team by the end of the season. His strong play has carried over to this season, and the 6-foot-2 guard leads the team with 5.9 rebounds and is second with 16.1 points and 2.6 assists. He's the only Griz to score in double figures in all eight games.
He had his two best games against Power Five competition, highlighted by a career-high 29 points in the 83-78 overtime victory against Pitt on Nov. 13. He scored a team-high 19 points against Stanford on Nov. 29 in a 70-54 loss; the Griz led by six points before they were outscored 26-4 in the final 10 minutes.
"This year has been really refreshing to be healthy from the start and get off to a good start," Oguine said.
Against UCLA, he’ll get the chance to go up against junior guard Aaron Holiday, who he said he played against in middle school and on the AAU circuit. Holiday leads the Bruins with 16.5 points per game and is the brother of NBA players Justin and Jrue Holiday.
Redshirt junior Jamar Akoh also will be returning home. He grew up about 60 miles east of Los Angeles in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and went to watch games at UCLA when he was in high school.
He played at UCLA when he was a freshman at Cal State Fullerton, where he spent two seasons before he transferred to Montana. He had five rebounds and one assist in 13 minutes of a 73-45 loss to the Bruins.
“I’ll have some friends and family there,” Akoh said. “A lot of people have been hitting me up for tickets for a couple months, since the date dropped. It’s a big stage.”