MISSOULA — Montana committed 11 second-half turnovers and saw its seven-point, first-half lead disappear as the Grizzlies' upset bid came up short in a 70-64 loss to the Arizona Wildcats on Tuesday in Tucson, Arizona.
Montana, seeking its second Pac-12 win in less than a week after beating Washington, led by seven points entering the break, but back-breaking mistakes let Arizona back in the game. Montana dropped to 3-5 on the season, with Big Sky play starting up again after Christmas with two games against Northern Arizona. The Griz are 0-2 in league play.
Montana lost the lead for good with 8:34 left in the second half when Bennedict Mathurin hit a shot and was fouled following a five-second call on Montana. The Wildcats guard missed the free throw, but Arizona came up with the offensive rebound, and Mathurin then dunked to push the lead to four.
Montana struggled rebounding the ball in the second half, and the Wildcats finished with 14 offensive rebounds, eight of which came in the second half. Two Kyle Owens free throws with 5:20 left brought Montana within two points, but Arizona immediately answered with a 3-pointer from James Akinjo.
Akinjo, a junior transfer from Georgetown, finished with a game-high 18 points on 5-of-16 shooting from the field. He hit just 2 of 8 3-point tries but made all six of his free throws and added five assists and a steal.
"I just wanted to stick with it, stay aggressive and get the best shot possible every time down," Akinjo told the Arizona Daily Star following the game. "In basketball, you're going to have tough nights. You can't let that change your approach. I just wanted to come in and do the same thing I always do."
Montana had its chances, but the second-half turnovers shot down the upset attempt. Montana went over seven minutes without a made field goal in the second half.
Michael Steadman finished with four points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes and fouled out with 6:27 left in the game.
Robby Beasley III had 10 first-half points, including two 3-pointers. A late layup by the freshman, playing in just his second game this year, gave the Grizzlies a 36-29 lead at the break. He finished with a team-high 17 points in 23 minutes.
Owens had 13 points and six rebounds for the Grizzlies, while freshman Brandon Whitney struggled, shooting 1 of 3 and committing six turnovers in 19 minutes.
Montana drained all nine of its free throw attempts in the first half, while the Wildcats went 8 of 16 from the line over the first 20 minutes. The Grizzlies led for over 17 minutes in the first half and for 23:31 in the game.
Montana finished 20 of 22 from the free throw line, while the Wildcats hit 19 of 34 free throws. Normally one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, the Wildcats his just 3 of 14 shots from beyond the arc.
The Grizzlies' perimeter defense swarmed the Wildcats as UM turned in a solid defensive performance. Arizona shot 24 of 57 from the field for the game but did hit 51.9% of its second-half field goals.
That was enough to down Montana, which shot 8 of 23 (34.8%) in the second half and consistently struggled to get any sort of good looks. Owens, Bannan and Beasley all finished with three fouls as the cohesion in the first half gave way in the second as lineups shifted due to the foul totals.
Josh Vazquez, who finished with 10 points on five shots and added four rebounds and two assists, also fouled out late in the game.
Jordan Hansen covers a bunch of stuff for the Missoulian and 406 Sports. Shout at him on Twitter @jordyhansen or shoot him an email at Jordan.Hansen@406mtsports.com