MISSOULA — Montana men’s basketball will get a chance to test its improving defense against the Saskatchewan Huskies just days before its season opener.
The Griz will tip off against Saskatchewan at 6 p.m. Monday at Dahlberg Arena in the team’s lone exhibition game. They will host Whitworth at 7 p.m. Friday to open the regular season.
“We’re trying to be one of the best defensive teams in the country,” junior guard Ahmaad Rorie said. “Our defense definitely needs to be intense. We need to treat defense like we treat offense. We need to be excited about it. We need to hustle. We need to help each other out. I think that’s the main thing.”
Griz head coach Travis DeCuire said after the Maroon-Silver scrimmage on Oct. 24 that the biggest area in which he wanted to see improvement was defense. With just six returning players, the focus has been on team defense, off-the-ball concepts, isolation situations, and emphasizing details and principles.
As the team begins to get on the same page more, the Griz are hoping to create more fast-break opportunities by improving upon their 12.63 turnovers forced per game, which was 217th in Division I last season.
“We need more pressure on the ball than we are applying right now,” DeCuire said. “We have to fix some other errors before we can get away with it.”
He also wants to see his team hold opponents under 45 percent shooting and preferably under 40 percent. Last year, Montana ranked 288th in Div. I with a field-goal percentage defense of 46.2 percent.
The Griz will get an opportunity to display their improvements against a Saskatchewan team that can spread the floor with only five players who are 6-foot-5 or taller. Sophomore Devin Wittow is the tallest player at 6-7.
Guard Lawrence Moore is one of five Huskies scoring in double figures. He's averaging 21.2 points per game, point guard Alex Unruh is at 16 points, and forward Joseph Barker is averaging 12.5 points and 10.5 rebounds.
U Sports, Canada's governing body for university sports, has a 24-second shot clock, while the NCAA’s is 30 seconds, making for a potentially more uptempo style from the guard-heavy Huskies. They're surrendering 84.5 points per game and allowing teams to shoot 47.3 percent from the field.
“It’s a different style of basketball,” DeCuire said. “As a team, you need to adjust to different styles. For us, we’re going to have to defend the 3-ball and contain penetration, and that’s going to be difficult for our bigger guys, but they have to get it done.”
The Huskies come from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which is approximately 650 miles northeast of Missoula. They’ve played eight games, including six exhibitions, and have gone 2-6. They lost in the Canada West conference bronze-medal game last season and graduated both their conference all-stars.
DeCuire is hoping to see the Grizzlies' growth in the exhibition, the first-ever meeting between the two programs. Montana is 4-0 in exhibitions under DeCuire.
“I’m looking to see a team that defends well, executes on offense and gets good shots because we turn them over,” DeCuire said. “I’d like to see a team that looks like they’re ready to compete with the schedule we’ve put forward for them in November.”
Griz win closed-door scrimmage
The Griz scored 76 points and “won with space,” DeCuire said, against the Seattle Redhawks of the Western Athletic Conference in a closed-door scrimmage on Oct. 29 in Spokane.
“I thought we played better in the first half than the second half,” DeCuire said. “We scored at a very high percentage. We scored 76 points, but we turned the ball over too much, 20 times. I think it was a game we probably should have scored in the 90s based on the way we were shooting the ball. We gave up too many possessions. But, it was what we wanted: an opportunity to see where we need work.”
Rorie led the Griz with 26 points across the two 20-minute halves, DeCuire said. Junior forward Jamar Akoh scored 18 points, and junior guard Mike Oguine chipped in 15 points, DeCuire added.
“We had good camaraderie as a team,” Rorie said. “We went out there and showed that we could play with each other, showed that we could play hard. They’re a good team. They’re big, and they have pretty good guards, good wings and good size. They gave us a good look, and I feel we gave them a good look as well. Everybody competed. Everybody showed up to play. I think that was big time.”
Seattle is led by first-year head coach Jim Hayford, who was the head coach at Eastern Washington from 2011-17.
No disaster relief game for Griz
As of Oct. 19, at least 24 Division I teams had gotten NCAA waivers to play in an extra exhibition game with proceeds going to disaster relief, according to the Associated Press. Approximately 15 more games were expected to be scheduled, according to the NCAA.
Montana isn’t among either group of teams, although it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
“We tried to get an extra one,” DeCuire said. “The days just don’t fit us. We spent a lot and have a lot going into travel already. We didn’t have the money to just fly somewhere. There weren’t a lot of people available to get here to us. We’re not going to be able to do that.”