MISSOULA — Calling any team the “cardiac (insert mascot here)” is cliché and overused, but unavoidable at times, too.
And that’s how the Montana Grizzly men’s basketball team has been of late.
Whatever you want to call them, the Griz have played in plenty of heart-stoppers this season. Three of the last four games — with last Thursday’s drubbing of Idaho the exception — have come down to the final minute. Saturday’s 75-74 win over Eastern Washington and Thursday’s 83-80 victory over Weber State were not decided until the final possession.
More games throughout the season have seen moments where the Grizzlies needed to grind out a win. Montana’s first matchup with Idaho was close for 30 minutes before UM opened the floodgates offensively. When Idaho State visited Missoula on Jan. 24, Montana jumped to a big lead in the second half but the Bengals chipped away down the stretch.
But in dealing with that adversity, the Grizzlies are showing they know how to close tough games, something head coach Travis DeCuire is proud to see.
“That’s all I talked about with these guys in pregame was we’ve been through a lot and we’re prepared for this to go to battle through adversity and change and unexpected situations,” DeCuire told KGVO after the win. “We just have to make the most of it.”
After losing a pair of tough conference games earlier in the year, Montana has now won eight straight.
The win over Weber State saw Montana jump to a 20-point lead before the Wildcats furiously came back thanks to an explosive first half from Jerrick Harding. But junior Sayeed Pridgett, the reigning Big Sky Conference player of the week, came up big once again with 29 points and 16 rebounds, both of which are career-highs.
When the Grizzlies hit the road, Pridgett has been in top form. He has starred in his new role as a starter this year and Thursday’s game upped his totals to 13.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Pridgett was 11 for 18 on Thursday and is shooting at a 58.5 percent clip from the field and 50 percent from deep.
“I’ve been harping on him or a couple of years trying to get him to do things a certain way. He’s always been talented. We saw him score 20 as a freshman,” DeCuire said. “He walked in my office in April and asked for trust and we’ve always talked about how that goes two ways.
“I said, ‘Hey, you got it. But you know what comes with that and the level of expectations.’ He’s owned it as well as probably anyone I’ve ever coached.”
Next up for Montana (18-6, 11-2) is Idaho State (9-14, 5-9) on Saturday with tip-off scheduled for 7 p.m. in Pocatello. The Grizzlies beat the Bengals 80-69 in the first meeting.
Montana will be without redshirt senior Jamar Akoh for the third straight game. Akoh did not make the trip with the team after injuring his knee last Thursday against the Vandals. But despite his absence, the Grizzlies won the rebounding battle 41-28 on Thursday. Pridgett’s performance was huge on the glass but senior guard Michael Oguine added nine and senior Bobby Moorehead added six.
“We lost the glass last time 35-33 and we talked about the fact that we could still win the glass but it was going to have to be guards going in there,” DeCuire said. “Mike’s nine were huge. Kendal (had three) and (redshirt senior) Ahmaad (Rorie had four) and Bobby’s six. It was a committee in terms of our effort.”
Akoh’s injury adds more adversity to a team that has had its fair share. But DeCuire knows his team is seasoned, and how they deal with what’s in their control is key now that they’re down one of their best players.
“Our backs are going to be against the wall in every game we play. That just is what it is,” DeCuire said.