Montana 68, Northern Colorado 63
Player of the game: Anthony Johnson. Montana’s senior leader paced his team with 19 and came up with the game-clinching steal and free throws. A writer sitting courtside with me asked if that was a typical game for Johnson. I said no, he’s been averaging 24 points a game. Johnson also helped hold the team together when UNC made up all of a 14-point deficit and took a brief lead.
Reasons for optimism
- Guard play. Johnson, Will Cherry and Ryan Staudacher combined for 39 of the team’s points. They’ll be going against some tough counterparts on Wednesday in Weber State’s Damian Lillard and Franklin Session.
- Balance. Every Griz who played, scored. Montana owned an 18-12 edge in bench points even though Raason Young went out with an injury in the first half and did not return.
- The Griz have played well against Weber. The Griz lost to the Wildcats 64-56 in Ogden in early January, but led Weber by eight points in the second half. The Griz then handled Weber 75-61 in Missoula.
Reasons for pessimism
- Thinner bench. Jack McGillis continues to struggle with foul trouble and played just four minutes Tuesday night. If Young cannot play, the Griz will need quality minutes out of McGillis just to keep everyone fresh.
- Lillard. There’s a reason he’s the MVP. He led his team with 23 points in the win over Portland State. He had 30 in the Wildcats’ win over the Griz in Ogden. He can flat-out will his team to wins.
- Dee Events Center. Only 4,387 fans showed up for Tuesday’s semifinal. You can bet that will nearly double for Wednesday’s championship, making for a hostile environment.