BILLINGS — Brian Fish will coach his Montana State men’s basketball team this week for both of its road games through Idaho State and Weber State, and then will be on his way to Omaha, Nebraska, for the funeral of his daughter on Sunday.
MSU announced last Friday that Caryssa Fish had died in Florida at the age of 29. The following day, Brian Fish coached the Bobcats to an emotional 86-72 home victory over Idaho.
Fish fought back tears, at times unsuccessfully, throughout a solemn postgame press conference, describing his determination to coach in the face of anguish as a cathartic exercise.
He especially commended his team, as best he could, for rallying around him.
“Today those guys lifted me up, and I don’t have words for it,” he said.
Fish will continue to walk the line between doing his life’s work — coaching basketball — and managing the personal heartbreak he’s been dealt on Thursday at Idaho State.
During a press conference in Bozeman on Tuesday, Fish indicated he expects his players to again help carry the load for him amid a time of mourning.
“I think they’ve been very solid all year as far as how they’ve approached things,” Fish said in audio provided by MSU’s sports information office. “(Monday) was a very spirited practice.
“It was overwhelming how they responded Saturday for our family. But they’ve been great, and I expect that to continue to trend that way.”
As Fish grieves, he and the team press on.
The victory over Idaho on Saturday was the Bobcats’ third consecutive win. They haven’t won four straight this season. They had perhaps their most efficient offensive showing in their first meeting with Idaho State, a 104-84 triumph at home on Jan. 26.
Montana State (11-12, 8-5 Big Sky) sits alone in fourth place in the league standings with the postseason conference tournament a month away in Boise, Idaho. The top five teams receive first-round tourney byes.
Led primarily by Brandon Boyd’s 14.5 points and four assists per game, Idaho State (9-13, 5-8) is tied for seventh in the standings with Northern Arizona. The Bobcats’ opponent on Saturday, Weber State (15-9, 9-4), is alone in third place.
The Wildcats, who have four players averaging double-figure points, including Jerrick Harding at 21.6 per game, beat the Bobcats 93-84 in Bozeman on Jan. 24.
MSU hasn’t played a game away from home in 10 days, so this is a challenging road trip the team is embracing.
“I don’t say this trying to be funny, but there’s a lot of teams wanting the season over with,” Fish said. “We’ve been out here since Sept. 29. Our team is as excited now to play and practice basketball as they were Sept. 29, and to me that’s the (barometer) I look at.
“Right now you win games just because you want to play and you’re a little bit tougher, and talent sometimes takes a back seat. We certainly are approaching the (rest of) the season excited.”
Point guard Harald Frey continues to be the ultimate spark plug for the Bobcats. He’s averaging 16 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists during MSU’s winning streak.
Big man Devin Kirby has scored in double figures in three of the last four, including a career-high 19 in a victory over Eastern Washington last Thursday.
Forward Keljin Blevins, meanwhile, has shot better than 50 percent in his last six games while finding a touch from the perimeter, and has scored in double figures in seven of the last 11.
Guard Tyler Hall, who broke the Big Sky’s all-time scoring record earlier this season, hasn’t had to assume the point-gathering load, and that’s when the Bobcats are seemingly at their best.
Defensively, MSU has allowed an average of 68 points per game during its streak.
“We’ve had some individuals that have made some personal adjustments that resulted in team success,” Fish said. “I think (Kirby) got stymied there for a couple games and I think he’s bounced back. Harry obviously has played at a very high level again. I think Keljin has as well.
“And it’s all been within a team concept that’s helped us be better.
“I think we’ve been better this past week defensively, which has really helped us. We’ve won some games that could have gone either way, which I think helps with the growth of the team as well.”
NOTES: Fish said F Zeke Quinlan is likely to remain sidelined this week after suffering a sprained right foot against Northern Colorado on Feb. 4. Fish said he hopes Quinlan can return to practice by Monday.