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Montana opens Big Sky play at Sacramento State seeking 1st road win this season

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Griz vs. Southern Mississippi basketball

Montana’s Cameron Parker (11) dribbles down court past Southern Mississippi’s Deandre Pinckney (5) during a college basketball game between the Griz and Southern Mississippi at Dahlberg Arena on Friday.

MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzlies have another chance to make things right following a blowout loss.

Things went south fast against Oregon on Monday night in Eugene. Montana opened on a 6-0 run, then the Ducks caught fire and beat the Griz, 87-47. Brandon Whitney missed the game due to an undisclosed lower leg injury that put the sophomore point guard in a walking boot, and his absence was a definite hit on the Grizzlies' offense and defense.

Montana struggled to defend, allowing the Ducks to shoot 73% on 2-point shots and 52.9% on 3-pointers. The Grizzlies couldn't make shots on the other end, going 7 of 28 inside the arc and 5 of 18 outside it.

"I just think on both sides of the ball, we just weren't ourselves missing him," Griz head coach Travis DeCuire said to Riley Corcoran of the KGVO postgame show after Monday's loss.

DeCuire noted, too, that Montana is prepared to play with or without Whitney this week, leaving little clue to the status of the sophomore guard going forward.

The other time Montana lost big on the road, an 86-49 defeat against Mississippi State, the Grizzlies lost after a late go-ahead bucket at the rim by North Dakota on the road. Then, after that surprising road loss to a team that has since gone 1-4 against D-I teams, the Grizzlies bounced back with a strong showing against Omaha at home.

So, once again, the Griz are coming off a massive loss and remain on the road. All four of Montana's wins are at home, and all three losses are on the road.

The Grizzlies (4-3) will hope to break that trend Thursday against Sacramento State (3-3) as Big Sky Conference play opens for all league teams.

"In all honesty, I don't want to erase it from our memory," DeCuire said Monday of the Grizzlies' showing. "I think we should be a little upset, a little disappointed and a little embarrassed and use that as motivation the next couple days to prepare for a conference opponent that's been tough for us

"For me, I think it should be fuel to our fire. We know what type of defense we play. We know the things we need to do on both sides of the ball to be a good basketball team. We got to be willing to execute those things regardless of what's going on."

The Hornets are off to a .500 record with losses to two Pac-12 teams — Utah and Arizona, by 33 and 46 points — and a 71-56 home defeat against UC San Diego, which Montana beat by 10 in the Zootown Classic.

Sac State had an odd start to the year when head coach Brian Katz, who was at the helm of his alma mater for 13 seasons, retired just days before the season tipped off. Longtime assistant Brandon Laird has taken over, and the Hornets are pretty much the same as they had been under Katz.

A tough, defensive-minded team, the Hornets are holding D-I teams to 29.6% shooting from 3-point range, a good bit below the D-I average this season of 33.4%, but they're allowing a 52.5% clip inside the arc. Basically, the Hornets stop the 3-ball but are struggling to keep teams from getting to the tin, allowing 38.4 points in the paint in five games against D-I teams.

While Montana has a big hold on the all-time series against Sac State, 46-10, the Hornets have been a pest as of late. 

Montana split the series with them last season, winning by 12 and losing by five in overtime as the Hornets snapped an eight-game skid to the Grizzlies. The season before, Montana swept the series but did so by single digits in both games.

Around the Big Sky

With league play starting this week, one team stands above the rest at a perfect 6-0 to open the year.

Weber State, with a slew of transfers leading the way, has opened with six wins in a row, with five of those wins coming by double digits. Two of the top 10 scorers in the Big Sky are in the Weber State backcourt as Koby McEwen, a transfer guard from Marquette, and Jamison Overton, a transfer guard from Utah Valley, are at 18 and 15 points per game respectively.

Overton is getting his scoring off a ridiculous 68.2% shooting clip, which is second in the league to Montana State big man Jubrile Belo's more insane 70.6% clip, which is good for 14th in the nation right behind Gonzaga phenom freshman Chet Holmgren.

Montana and Montana State are next in the standings tied at 4-3, followed by Southern Utah (3-3), Eastern Washington (3-3), Sac State (3-3), Northern Arizona (3-4), Portland State (2-3), Northern Colorado (3-5), Idaho State (1-5) and Idaho (1-6).

Notes: If Whitney is unable to play, Cameron Parker is expected to start in his place. ... Kyle Owens played 14 minutes against Oregon after failing to register more than nine since Nov. 13, but he fouled out with just three points. ... Whitney had never missed a game before Monday, when he snapped a 28-game streak.

Lance Hartzler covers Griz men's basketball and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter at @lance_hartz or shoot him an email at Lance.Hartzler@406mtsports.com.

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