Before the Arizona Wildcats (7-4) take some time off for the holidays, they have two non-conference games to get out of the way, starting with a home game against the Montana Grizzlies (6-3) on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. MST.
We outlined some things to watch for in the game here, but we wanted to get even more insight on the Grizzlies, so we asked Kyle Hansen, the Montana basketball beat writer for The Missoulian, some questions about the reigning Big Sky champions.
Now, Kyle isn’t any ordinary beat writer. He graduated from the UA in 2016 and covered Arizona basketball for the Daily Wildcat throughout the 2015-16 season, so he has a unique perspective on this matchup.
His preview can be read here, and here is our Q&A with him:
The Grizzlies were picked to win the Big Sky again. Through nine games, do they look capable of repeating?
The Grizzlies have been a tough team to figure out so far this year because they haven’t exactly been fully staffed all year. Their starting post presence Jamar Akoh missed six games with a wrist injury but returned for their last two contests. Their sixth man Timmy Falls missed a pair of games and Donaven Dorsey, another reserve, missed a game as well. All three have started at some point this year.
All in all, Montana has only played two games this year with its entire roster available. That being said, they are capable of repeating simply because of experience. They returned four starters from last year’s team and were unanimous picks coming into the year to win the Big Sky. Once the team gets in stride and used to each other again, they’ll be a tough team to get past come conference season.
What are Montana’s strengths and weaknesses? What kind of style does it play?
Montana’s biggest strength is its defense. That’s been the staple of the program and it is what propelled them to the NCAA Tournament last year. They use a man defense with a lot of on-ball switches and have guys who can defend multiple positions. Offensively, 3-point shooting has been a struggle as has rebounding, though a lot of that has to do with Akoh missing so much time. Their 3-point shooting is slightly better than it was a year ago, but improvements still need to be made.
What are Montana’s strengths and weaknesses? What kind of style do they play?
Montana’s backcourt duo of Ahmaad Rorie and Michael Oguine are the faces of the team. Rorie is the team’s point guard and probably best scoring threat while Oguine is a deceiving athlete for only being 6-foot-2. Akoh can give them a double-double any night.
The Grizzlies have quite the connection to the Pac-12. Can you give us the skinny on that?
Head coach Travis DeCuire spent six years as an assistant coach at Cal, his final year being the infamous season when Justin Cobbs hit the game-winner to hand then-No. 1 Arizona its first loss of the 2013-2014 year. Rorie spent a year at Oregon before transferring to Montana. He was on the team in 2014-2015 when Arizona beat Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. Dorsey spent two seasons at Washington before coming to Montana and Kendal Manuel, a Billings, Montana native, spent three years at Oregon State.
Especially in the northwest area, Montana is a nice Division I landing spot for players who are looking to leave Pac-12 schools, and DeCuire recognized that being a UM grad and having spent time working for former Montana coaches at bigger schools before coming back to Missoula.
(Note: check out Kyle’s story for a more in-depth look at Montana’s Pac-12 connection)
Arizona struggled against zone defense against Baylor. Can we expect Montana to mix it in Wednesday?
Montana hasn’t run much zone this year but I wouldn’t be surprised if they gave it shot. Like I mentioned earlier, their defense is their strength but I’d expect more of a man-to-man look.
What kind of chance does Montana have of pulling off the upset? What do the Grizzles have to do to win?
It’s an interesting game because school is out and Arizona has lost a pair of games so the crowd and who shows up could be a huge factor. Montana finally has its full roster healthy and playing but they will have to play a complete game. Against North Dakota State on Monday, the offense struggled in the first half before finding its rhythm in the second. They can’t let that happen if they hope to pull off an upset against a Pac-12 school.
If they come out hot and stay consistent and find a way to match up with Arizona’s athletes, it could be an interesting matchup.
What are you most looking forward to in your return to Tucson?
The easiest question I’ve had to answer so far, the weather! It’s been hovering around the 30s with snow for about the last month here and looking at Tucson’s forecast this week almost brought a tear to my eye. I’m a Montana native through and through but I’ve never been a winter guy. And of course seeing my old friends and classmates for a few days will be great. Attending Arizona was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I met some of the most important people in my life there. Tucson is a special place and I’m excited to get back.