BOZEMAN — Montana State’s next five basketball games will serve as a litmus test for the looming Big Sky Conference schedule.
Trips to Milwaukee, Central Michigan and Omaha, as well as home games versus UC Santa Barbara and Denver, are contests that Bobcats coach Brian Fish said will be comparable to what his team will face once the league slate opens Dec. 28.
Teachable moments are on the horizon.
“Those are games that are going to be competitive,” Fish said Wednesday after a 98-61 romp over Bethesda (California) at Worthington Arena. “We’ve got to compete and see how we do. We’ve got to approach each one and see what can happen.
“They’re winnable games and they’re losable games.”
MSU was in a similar situation last season and lost six in a row before entering conference play. The Bobcats recovered, and later reeled off a five-game Big Sky winning streak and eventually landed the sixth seed for the league tournament in Reno, Nevada.
Last year’s preseason struggles are still on the minds of the Bobcats, who are now 5-3 and hoping to erase those memories.
“We kind of crumbled when we hit that road stretch last year,” MSU’s Harald Frey said. “So us veterans, we’ve got to do a better job than last year to prepare each other. Every game counts the same.”
The win against Bethesda counted the same, even though it came by a 37-point margin. The Bobcats had trouble taking care of the ball in the first half and the Flames kept it close.
But MSU went on a 17-0 run at the outset of the second half to build a big lead. Highlighting the spurt were 3-pointers by Frey, Tyler Hall and Sam Neumann, and drive baskets by Devonte Klines and Isaac Bonton.
The Bobcats led by as many as 43 points in the second half. By game’s end they held a 56 to 27 rebounding advantage.
“Second half I thought the ball moved. I think we had 13 assists in the second half,” Fish said. “They were simple plays. We dominated the boards tonight, and I really liked that.
“But what I was really happy about was when multiple people touched the ball — I don’t care if you’re playing Bethesda (a team from the Pacific Christian Athletic Conference) or you’re playing whoever on your schedule — when you get multiple people touching it you’re going to have good things. I thought for the most part everyone was consistent moving the ball like that.”
Every MSU player scored. Hall led the way with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Klines, Bonton and Joe Mvuezolo each had 11. Keljin Blevins added 10.
If anything, it was a good tune up for Saturday’s game at Milwaukee, a team that knocked off Iowa State earlier in the season.
The Bobcats will look to bring the same kind of gusto to their upcoming five-game stretch.
“We’ve had some inconsistent play to start the season. This just shows us that if we bring the energy and do the things we can control, I think everything else will fall into place for us. So that’s our main focus every practice, every game.”