MISSOULA — The Montana men’s basketball team was literally zoned out against Stanford.
The Griz (4-3) struggled at times with Stanford’s zone defense and managed just 54 points in the loss, their lowest total since Feb. 27, 2016 against Weber State. They passed around the perimeter and launched late 3-pointers, resulting in a season-low shooting percentage of 29.2 percent.
They’ll see another zone and will try to get their low-post presence going when they host the Cal State Northridge Matadors 7 p.m. Sunday at Dahlberg Arena. It’s Montana’s first home game against a Division I team this season.
“Stanford was big, long and pretty strong down there,” forward Jamar Akoh said after Saturday’s practice. “It was hard to see over them and through them to get the ball into the post or block. That had to do with some of our struggles.”
The Matadors (1-5) aren’t as big as Stanford with three starters at 6-foot-5 or smaller. They have just two players at 6-foot-8 or taller who are playing more than five minutes per game.
Akoh had success against the Matadors when he played them while at Cal State Fullerton before he transferred to Montana. He had a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds as a sophomore in February 2016.
Getting Akoh (8.1 points), senior Fabijan Krslovic (4.7) and other forwards more touches down low is part of the way the Griz aim to bolster their offense. Their 70.6 points rank 259th out of 351 Division I team, while their 42.4 shooting percentage ranks 277th.
The Griz could jumpstart their offense Sunday if they’re selective with their passes while working the gaps and baseline against the 2-3 zone. The Matadors have allowed opposing teams to shoot 46.4 percent from the field and have given up an average of 33.3 points per game in the paint.
“They’re not really big, so it should be advantageous to us,” Griz coach Travis DeCuire said. “But we need to get it in there. If we can execute better and it happens, I’ve wanted to score more inside than we have this year. That’s an area of improvement for us.”
Trying to slow the scoring woes and rev up the offense is a multi-faceted operation. DeCuire highlighted struggles in the stretch of eight minutes remaining to four minutes remaining; he said he may start using timeouts there to get control of the situation instead of letting the players try to break out of a slump on their own.
The issues of lax play in and around that four-minute stretch is an area in which junior guard Ahmaad Rorie voluntarily took some blame.
“That’s when I have to be more aggressive, take over the game, allow my guys to know they can rally around me and I can get guys in the right spots,” Rorie said. “A lot of the blame is me. We just have to lock in as a team and do the right things and we’ll be successful."
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DeCuire has also mentioned players who are taking too many 3-pointers need to take fewer.
He could also see lesser-used bench players getting more minutes.
“With the rollercoaster ride, you always want to look to someone else to see if they can provide you with a spark,” DeCuire said.
Maybe not much of a bullfight
The Matadors come to Missoula on a five-game losing streak. Their lone win came against NAIA Life Pacific, 76-50, in the season opener.
Cal State Northridge is averaging 68.2 points per game, and it's being outscored by 5.8 points per game overall and 12.2 points against Division I teams.
The Matadors are shooting 38.8 percent on 3-pointers, which ranks 60th in Div. I, with 17.2 attempts per game.
They turn the ball over just 10.2 times per game, which ranks 11th in Div. I, while the Griz force 19 turnovers, which ranks 17th.
They also have four players scoring in double digits, so the Griz aren't expecting them to waive the white flag.
Senior Tavrion Dawson, a 6-foot-8 forward and preseason All-Big West Conference selection, leads the team with 15.7 points per game.
Freshman Terrell Gomez, a 5-foot-8 guard, is averaging 12.3 points on 53.7 percent shooting to go with 3.3 assists. Senior Michael Warren, a 6-foot-5 guard, is at 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds. Lyrik Shreiner, a 6-foot-3 guard, is scoring 10.7 points.
“They’re athletic and very good at scoring, creating shots for themselves and others,” DeCuire said. “They’re going to attack the rim. Not a lot of posting up, but a lot of driving, a lot of ball screens, uptempo. It’ll probably be our most athletic matchup we’ve had up to this point.”