MISSOULA — After two weeks away, the Montana men's basketball team is finally back at home.
The Grizzlies will host Big Sky Conference foe Sacramento State on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Dahlberg Arena. Portland State will be in town on Saturday to complete a four-games-in-eight-days stretch for the Griz.
Senior Bobby Moorehead said the Grizzlies were happy to start league play with two wins. However, he feels improvements need to be made across the board if they want to keep winning.
“We can’t be complacent,” Moorehead said. “Every team is going to bring their best against us because we’re at the top right now and we’re predicted to be at the top. So we’re going to get everybody’s best game.”
Defensively the Grizzlies are making some adjustments, according to Moorehead. The Griz let Southern Utah claw back into Monday's game with some late runs. NAU knocked down seven 3-pointers against the Griz in the first half on Saturday.
“Teams shouldn’t make seven threes on us in a game and they did it in a half,” Moorehead said. “Just being able to guard your guy is something we need to improve on and get better at.”
Thursday’s game will pit the top two defenses in the Big Sky against one another. Sac State (6-4, 0-1) leads the conference in scoring defense at 63.1 points per game. Montana is second at 68.7.
The squads are also 1-2 in opponents' field goal percentages, with teams converting 41.8 percent of their shots against the Hornets and 42.3 percent against the Griz.
The Hornets shut teams down on the perimeter as well. Teams are shooting 29.7 percent from three against them, good for best in the league and 42nd in the country.
Sac State’s scoring defense also ranks at No. 31 in the country. The Hornets force 17.5 turnovers on average per game, good for the 21st best mark nationally.
Thursday could be a little different than years past. The Hornets typically like to slow down on offense but this year they’ve sped things up.
According to KenPom.com, Sac State ranks 73rd in the country in tempo and pace of play, just behind Southern Utah which sits at No. 69. Last year, the Hornets were No. 304 in pace of play.
This year, the Grizzlies rank No. 255 on KenPom in tempo.
One area where the Grizzlies need improvement is rebounding. In their first 10 games, they played eight Division I teams and only out-rebounded one, Incarnate Word.
However, in their last three games against South Dakota State, NAU and SUU, the Grizzlies have won the rebounding battle. A lot of that is thanks to the return of redshirt senior Jamar Akoh, the team’s true post. But Moorehead led the team in rebounding on Monday with seven and senior guard Michael Oguine grabbed nine boards against South Dakota State.
That area could be the difference Thursday. Sac State ranks No. 2 in the conference with 38.5 per game. Montana is dead-last in the Big Sky with 31.7 per contest.
“Teams are getting a lot of offensive rebounds on us,” Moorehead said. “So that’s something we’re really trying to enforce these next couple of games. The guards are especially important in terms of being back and helping the bigs.
“You just have to keep saying it over and over that the guards need to get in there and rebound. In high school, you didn’t necessarily need to do it but everybody’s a lot bigger out here.”
Tipoff for Thursday’s game is 7 p.m.
“It’s all mental,” Montana coach Travis DeCuire said. “We have to beat them to loose balls. We have to push the ball and tempo and understand that we’re going to win this game on the defensive side of the ball. If we come out and defend like we know we can, we’ll be fine.”
Moorehead finding stroke again
The beginning of the year wasn’t the smoothest for Moorehead.
Moorehead started the year 0-for-12 from the field in the first two-and-a-half games and missed his first 13 3-pointers before seeing one fall in the fourth game of the year against Miami (Ohio). A 6-foot-7 lengthy player who serves as a guard and forward, Moorehead is one of the best defensive players on the team, so while the shots weren’t falling, his presence was felt elsewhere.
But lately, and especially in the last three contests, Moorehead’s stroke is starting to come back.
Moorehead canned two big 3-pointers against South Dakota State before knocking down his first three attempts from beyond the arc against NAU. During Montana’s three-game winning streak, he’s 6-for-15 from deep and 7-for-16 from the field.
You could see his shot coming back against North Dakota State on Dec. 17 when he converted three of his six 3-point attempts. But lately, his shot has been more consistent.
“I was just getting out of a bad groove,” Moorehead said. “In the beginning, it was kind of a mental thing. When you miss that many in a row it’s just kind of tough. Once I got the lid off of the basket a few times I felt a lot better and I feel a lot more confident shooting it now.”
Since breaking that cold streak, Moorehead has been converting his threes at a 37.7 percent clip.
As mentioned earlier, rebounding is an area Moorehead wants to help out in more as well. With his size, he’s able to crash the boards a bit more. But he thinks he can do more.
“I rebounded a lot better last year so I’m trying to make it more of a focal point for me right now,” Moorehead said.
On the year, Moorehead is averaging 5.8 points per game on 35.6 percent shooting and grabs about four rebounds per contest.