Sayeed Pridgett

Montana's Sayeed Pridgett drives toward the basket against North Dakota's Kienan Walter on Jan. 4 at Dahlberg Arena.

KURT WILSON, Missoulian

MISSOULA — Sayeed Pridgett jumped on the film like he was ready to binge-watch a Netflix series.

Pridgett had never been one for studying film, even going back to high school. But after a freshman year in which he struggled on defense, he’s focused on film preparation and review to make sure his sequel is better than the original.

“I didn’t take (film) as seriously as a freshman because I was like, ‘We’re just going to play them and see what they do in the game,’” Pridgett said after Friday’s practice. “As a freshman, I just didn’t really care about it. Now I realize it’s a lot more important.”

Pridgett, a 6-foot-5 wing, has become a more versatile player this season, filling in wherever his team needs him as a sixth man. He’s made his impact in the new defense and continues to work on his offense with Northern Arizona coming to town for a 7 p.m. tip-off Saturday at Dahlberg Arena.

In addition to team film sessions, he’s watched film one on one with all four of the coaches at various points and had one-on-one meetings with them. During October alone, head coach Travis DeCuire estimated Pridgett watched film with coaches or had film sent to him to review individually at least 25 out of 31 days that month.

“Sometimes the best way of communication is film,” DeCuire said. “The truth is in the film. I think it was eye-opening, but I think it was educational for him. You have to be open to criticism. He was.”

His abilities fit him better with the switch from a pack-line defense to an aggressive man-to-man defense. This year’s defense makes anticipation easier because players can see and know where their help is at. Last year’s pack-line defense made players rely on reacting if a teammate got beat.

He showed several aspects of his defensive skill set in a short window of Thursday’s win over Southern Utah. With the offense sputtering early and the Griz down four points, DeCuire went to a lineup that could create more offense from its defense.

After Pridgett committed a quick turnover, he tallied two steals, one block, one rebound and an assist on a 3-pointer by Timmy Falls. By the time he left the court less than six minutes later, the Griz had turned their 12-8 deficit into a 25-16 lead.

“I feel I try to be the glue guy,” Pridgett said. “Whatever a team is missing, I try to bring that. If we’re lacking in points, I do what I can to score, whether that’s getting myself a shot or getting somebody else a shot. If we’re not playing with enthusiasm, I try to bring that energy and fire the team is missing. I try to get blocks, try to get steals, be right there for the great rotation.”

He’s come off the bench in all 20 games this season after playing in 31 games and starting 11 last year. Despite not starting, his attitude, energy and play have merited an increase in minutes from 19.5 to 22.9 per game, and his stats have followed that rise.

In 11 fewer games, he’s blocked 12 shots this year compared to 16 last season, and he’s had 29 steals after just 11 as a freshman. He’s at his best when he’s rebounding, DeCuire said, because he can push the ball in transition; he's increased his rebounding from 3.9 per game to 4.4 this season.

“His attention to detail has grown,” DeCuire said. “He communicates well. He knows where the rotations are going to take place and when. He’s helping plug up penetration, willing to take charges, willing to contest shots at the rim. That’s been an area of growth for him. All those things, rather than we’re demanding him to do them, they've become habits."

The Griz are still looking for improvement from him on the offensive side of the ball. His scoring is down from 8.1 points to 7.4 and from 52.4 percent shooting to 42.9. He was expected to be averaging at least 10 points.

His assist-to-turnover ratio has also dropped, from 0.98 to 0.67, as his turnovers have increased.

He’s scored in double figures twice in eight conference games, including a 10-point performance against Northern Arizona on Dec. 28.

If he improves his offensive output, he’ll take pressure off of other players and add another scorer to an offense that’s already outscoring its opponents by 17.6 points per game.

“There's great opportunities for him," DeCuire said. "I think he’s tuned in. I think he’s bought in. That’s why we have him as a sixth man.”

***

Montana will attempt to improve to 9-0 in Big Sky Conference play, while Northern Arizona is coming off its first Big Sky win, a 77-75 victory over Montana State on Thursday.

The Lumberjacks (4-17, 1-7) won that game without their leading scorer, JoJo Anderson, because of an injury, but the Griz are still preparing as if he’ll play. They were also without Corey Brown and Lenell Henry.

Northern Arizona guard Torry Johnson has come on strong offensively in recent games. He scored a career-high 27 points in the win over Montana State one game after posting a career-best 25 points in a loss to Idaho.

“He’s your Chicago tough kid; not afraid of anything,” DeCuire said. “Whether he’s starting or he’s coming off the bench (or) if he’s had a bad game, he’s going to be aggressive anyway. He’s talented. … I think he’s a guy that’s got a ton of confidence. When he gets it going, he’s hard to guard.”

The Griz will try to avoid the foul trouble from their Dec. 28 game at Northern Arizona. The teams combined to attempt 64 free throws in Montana’s 87-69 victory, and the reason why was twofold.

“We were terrible in transition,” DeCuire said. “We weren’t getting back very well, and they just ran it right up our back. Second thing was (it was the) first week of conference; every game in the conference, they were blowing the whistle and everybody was shooting free throws.

“They were quick on hands checks and they were calling a lot of stuff around the baskets. Jamar (Akoh) got a ton of free throws because of hand checks around the rim. JoJo (Anderson) benefited from us not handling transition and then allowing penetration.”

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