Montana beats Southern Utah 005.JPG

Montana junior Bobby Moorehead looks to shoot over Southern Utah's Dwayne Morgan during the Grizzlies' 71-47 win on Jan. 25 in Missoula.

TOMMY MARTINO.MISSOULIAN

MISSOULA — The impact of Bobby Moorehead’s headband is more practical than psychological.

The Montana Grizzlies junior has worn a headband several times throughout the season, mostly during Big Sky play. And while he and the team are having success during the strong conference start, he doesn’t feel any different when he wears a headband.

But he has noticed one benefit.

“It does keeps the sweat out of my eyes, so that works,” Moorehead said.

While the headband gives him a different look, it’s been his heads-up play that’s made a difference for the Griz, who will try to move to 13-0 in conference play when they host Sacramento State at 7 p.m. Saturday.

He’s filled the void left by Donaven Dorsey, who suffered a season-ending injury, in the preseason, and he’s adjusted to whatever is needed on a nightly basis. He can be a lock-down defender, crash the boards, score at opportune times and lay his body on the line to secure a loose ball.

He’s done that whether or not he’s wearing a headband, but there’s another piece of headgear that would better suit him, at least metaphorically.

“He’s Mr. Utility,” head coach Travis DeCuire said. “He should play with a hard hat.”

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Moorehead debuted his headband at Montana during non-conference play this year after he got some headbands from teammate Mike Oguine, who used to wear them to practice before he cut his hair. He later bought some of his own.

DeCuire said no players wore headbands when he played at Montana, and he hasn’t allowed it in any program he’s coached, but he silently gave the 6-foot-7 wing a pass.

It was the first time Moorehead donned a headband since he played at Stadium High School in Tacoma, Washington. There, he was renowned for his scoring prowess and averaged 26 points as a junior and 26.5 points and 11 rebounds as a senior. But since he was tired from shooting, he didn't try too hard on defense.

He had success as a freshman 3-point shooter at Montana, but he struggled last year and lost his starting job. He focused on defense to earn minutes, and he got comfortable midway through the year.

He’s admittedly not the most athletic or best at sliding his feet, and he said the team and scheme have helped him look better than he is. He showed his defensive capabilities when he helped hold Montana State's Tyler Hall to 10 points in January.

“It can be a little scary sometimes just being on an island with somebody,” Moorehead said. “Maybe not too scary, but it is fun when you guard someone well and they miss a shot. That makes it exciting.”

“He’s always doing the right thing on defense,” senior Fabijan Krslovic added, “and just makes life miserable for the opposition.”

He’s shown his grit by diving on the floor for loose balls and by collecting a career-best 28 steals. He laid out for one during the 92-89 road win over Portland State, which DeCuire called “an emotional lift.”

“It’s in his heart to fight until the end,” DeCuire said. “And that’s what good defenders do. They fight until the end of every possession. They’re relentless. It hurts to be a good defender.”

While guarding top scorers, he’s grabbed a career-high 5.3 rebounds per game. And he’s gotten it done offensively, averaging a career-best 8.1 points, including a season-high 16 on 4-of-5 shooting from deep last week at Northern Colorado. He even got his first career double-double the same night he guarded Hall.

He’s been the all-around contributor as he hit the weight room and improved his strength. That’s helped him fight through contact and screens, stand up players driving to the rim and kept him from getting pushed around on rebound attempts.

After the loss to Stanford in November, DeCuire said Moorehead was playing “championship-level basketball.” He’s still at that level, DeCuire said Friday, although it’s hard to define.

“It’s unscripted play-making on both sides of the ball,” he said. “Bob’s there when you need him most.”

***

Sacramento State comes to Missoula on a three-game losing streak, all by 16 or more points. The Hornets (6-18, 3-8) are 1-10 on the road.

The Griz (19-5, 12-0) own a 78-66 road win at Sacramento State in January. They've won 11 straight in Missoula dating back to last season, with their last loss coming to Sacramento State, 67-65, on Feb. 16.

Justin Strings scored 29 points in that game for the Hornets, had a team-high 20 points in the first meeting this year and is averaging a team-high 18.9 points during conference play.

“We’ve had problems with them every year, no matter if they’re at the top or bottom of the conference,” Moorehead said. “But having them come in and dominate us here, it wasn’t a good feeling. I don’t think we’ll let that happen this year.”

***

Notes: DeCuire said after Friday’s practice that his expectation for Montana and UCLA to reschedule their canceled Dec. 6 game is “more than likely no.” Although time is running out in the regular season, he said “situations change,” so it’s not entirely ruled out. However, he said the last time he talked with UCLA about finding a date was over a month ago.

Frank Gogola covers Montana Grizzlies men's basketball for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at Frank.Gogola@406mtsports.com.

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