SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Montana men's basketball coach Larry Krystkowiak has had Dec. 22 circled on his 2005 calendar for more than a year.
Now he can cross it off and put a big “W" next to it.
The Griz pulled away from Santa Clara down the stretch for a 67-56 nonconference win in front of 2,037 Thursday at the Leavey Center.
Montana's 10th straight win avenged a disheartening 77-75 home loss to the Broncos (5-5) last December. In that game, the Griz had the ball in the final seconds with the score tied 75-75, but coughed up possession. The Broncos turned it into the winning layup.
“I jotted this date down a year ago when I felt like we had something taken away from us at home," Krystkowiak said in a postgame interview on KGVO Radio. “You coach it and talk about it, it's the little things - one little play, a block out, taking a charge - and you work on it and work on it, and it's magnified in a game like this."
The Griz (10-1) got important contributions from virtually everyone who played. Matt Martin hit three key 3-pointers in the second half and led the team in scoring with 16 points. Kevin Criswell had 14 points, a career-high 13 rebounds, four assists and three steals. Andrew Strait, coming off a 31-point effort at UC Riverside, added 13 points and five boards.
Jordan Hasquet, who had two big three-point plays late in the game, teamed with Strait and Mike Chavez to limit Santa Clara's Travis Niesen to four second-half points after the 6-foot-7 senior ripped the Griz for 14 in the first half.
“We played him straight up," Krystkowiak said of Niesen. “He's a workhorse. We ran Chavez at him, Jordan and Andrew. We never trapped him. We felt that if we trap him, it's just another body that he can draw foul on. The plan kind of worked for us."
Niesen had nearly half his team's points in a first half that ended with the Griz ahead 32-30, the 10th time in 11 games they've led at intermission.
Point guard Brody Angley had eight of his 13 points in the first five minutes of the second half and Mitch Henke had five of his 14 as the Broncos forged a 47-44 lead with 14:48 to play.
But Martin scored all nine points on three treys in a 9-0 run that gave the Griz a 53-47 lead with 11:18 to play.
“In the first half I was 0-for-4 starting out," said Martin. “(Assistant) coach Wayne Tinkle pulled me aside at halftime and said, 'Get your legs under you.' That's what I did in the second half."
Martin drew praise from his coach.
“It certainly wasn't within the flow of our offense," Krystkowiak said of Martin's treys. “When he gets it cranked up he's as good a shooter as I've seen. When everything is coming so hard, having some shooters on the floor is a godsend."
The Broncos closed to 53-51 on a breakaway slam by Henke, but that was as close as they would get.
Hasquet then scored on a backdoor layup off a feed from Criswell and converted the free throw when he was fouled by Henke. That made it 56-51 with 6:40 to play. His second hoop with harm came with 2:34 left and made it 62-54. The Broncos never threatened again.
“It was really neat," Krystkowiak said of the win, which upped UM's road mark to 4-1. “It was a dogfight. We haven't been involved in a game like this. We had a little rust when it came time to execute plays. This is what it takes to win on the road."
With his 14 points, Criswell moved past Ken McKenzie (1972-75) and into fifth place on the career scoring list with 1,329 points. But it was his 13-rebound effort that impressed Krystkowiak.
“Awesome," Krystkowiak said of the 6-2 senior from Colstrip. “Dennis Rodman was not a skilled player, but it was an every possession relentless effort that made him good. Kevin provided that for us tonight."
The Griz will take a week off for Christmas, then face Wisconsin-Milwaukee at home on Dec. 30 in their final tuneup before Big Sky play.
“We haven't accomplished anything," Krystkowiak said. “The win total is never talked about. We keep track of it, but we never set a goal of a certain amount of wins. We want to be our conference representative when it comes to the Big Dance. I've asked our guys to stay grounded and realize where prize is."
NOTES: Montana's 10-1 start is its best since the 1993-94 team started 13-0. … The Griz won the rebounding battle 40-37 and turned the ball over a season-low nine times. … Montana's bench outscored the Broncos' 10-1. … Chavez had seven rounds off the bench while Matt Dlouhy chipped in six points, five boards and two steals.