MISSOULA — A difficult road stretch for the Montana men's basketball team continues Saturday night as the Grizzlies face off against Northern Colorado in Greeley.
The Bears are coming off a nine-point win over Montana State on Thursday, while Montana (3-0 BSC, 7-7) took the first part of a two-game road trip with a 60-58 victory over Southern Utah on the same evening.
Northern Colorado (1-1 BSC, 8-5) is the highest-ranked Big Sky team in the KenPom rankings, coming in at No. 121. The Grizzlies are currently in the midst of a four games in eight days stretch, three of which are road games.
“This is a road trip you’ve got to split,” Montana coach Travis DeCuire said to KGVO radio following the win over the Thunderbirds. “You can’t come out of here with no wins and these are two difficult teams to beat on the road, especially with the athleticism this group has and then how dialed in Northern Colorado is defensively.
“To get the first win is huge, so now we’re playing with house money.”
Montana has won its first three conference matchups by a combined 11 points with a suffocating defense and timely shooting.
Northern Colorado will present yet another tough matchup as the Grizzlies. Shooting at a 37.4 percent clip from behind the 3-point line, the Bears have five players who have attempted 23 or more shots from beyond the arc this season.
They are making them, too.
Sophomore swingman Bodie Hume, senior guard Trent Harris and sophomore guard Matt Johnson are the biggest threats to the Grizzlies from deep and all three will have to be accounted for throughout the evening.
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Montana will also have to key in on Big Sky MVP candidate Jonah Radebaugh. The redshirt senior guard is scoring 15.8 points per game while also averaging 6.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game.
The two-time Big Sky defensive player of the year has already scored 20 or more points five times this year, including 28 in a win over Denver.
Northern Colorado boasts a deep team as well, with nine players averaging 11 or more minutes per outing. All together it poses a difficult test for Montana, whose win over Southern Utah was its first road victory of the year.
That was an important milestone for the Grizzlies, who have had a tough time starting and finishing games on the road. Montana never trailed against the Thunderbirds, which was a first for the Grizzlies this season.
“We’ve done a good job of halftime adjustments three games in a row when we’ve outscored our opponent,” DeCuire said. “We feel like we need to do that at the beginning of the game and then make adjustments for the second half.”
Montana has recently gotten a big boost offensively from the recent play of Jared Samuelson. The senior has 35 points on 17 of 26 shooting over the past few games and has hit five triples in that span.
Grizzly guard Kendal Manuel, who struggled shooting the ball in late November and through December, hit 3 of 3 pointers in the second half against the Thunderbirds. It could be a sign he is breaking out of a slump, which would give Montana yet another consistent outside threat.
In order to keep up with the sharpshooting Bears, DeCuire might need yet another big game out of both.
Tip is slated for 7 p.m. with radio coverage by KGVO radio. The game may be streamed on Pluto TV channel 536.