MISSOULA – This is what Montana Griz fans were hoping for this year.
The Montana men are rolling right now at the halfway point of conference play, winning five in a row. A team full of stars is proving unselfishness can make everyone happy.
Montana’s best stretch of the season started right after perhaps its worst. Back-to-back conference losses to Portland State and Eastern Washington provided a needed reality check. And the message was received.
“Our level of intensity. I think we’re playing harder than we were a month ago,” noted head coach Travis DeCuire. “I think sometimes you’re over-confident. You feel like you’re a good team, and you want to wait for big games or certain games to play hard. And you lose sight of the fact that every game is big.”
Montana has also learned they have strength in numbers. The Griz suit up all-conference caliber talent all over the court. But early on, DeCuire thought everyone was trying to become the brightest star. Now they appear more comfortable sharing the spotlight. And the stats prove it. In 10 conference games, five different Grizzlies have led the team in scoring.
“You have to be happy with other people’s success,” explained senior forward Jamar Akoh. “I think when we do that is when you kind of see us, the real us, when we’re special and we’re fun to watch.”
Akoh might not be the flashiest Grizzly, but he has become the most important. His 17 points and 10 rebounds a night in league play draws opponents’ eyes to the paint, leaving others wide open.
“I feel I’m a pretty unselfish player,” said Akoh. “So if I get the ball down there and I don’t have a shot for myself, I can create something for my teammates. I draw a lot of attention, as well. Hopefully that benefits the team.”
“That feeds into our field goal percentage,” explained DeCuire. “And that’s why it’s so high as a team. We’ve got three guys at 50 percent and Ahmaad (Rorie) at 48 percent, is because we play inside-out, which allows us to get the ball in isolated areas. We get a lot more wide open shots.”
Montana will host last place Idaho on Thursday night, as the Grizzlies try to run their winning streak to six games. Then they look for revenge versus Eastern Washington on Saturday night. Both games start at 7:00 in Dahlberg Arena.