MISSOULA — It may not be going out on a limb to say the Montana men’s basketball team could upset the Stanford Cardinal.
The Griz (4-2) have played up and down to their competition through six games and will face the Pac-12’s Stanford (3-5) at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Maples Pavilion. They could earn a second Power Five win this season against a Cardinal team that's already lost to two Big Sky teams.
“That’d be pretty cool,” junior wing Bobby Moorehead said. “I grew up watching Pac-12 at UW, so beating a Pac-12 school would be pretty sweet.”
The Cardinal lost to Big Sky teams Eastern Washington and Portland State this season based largely on matchups.
Eastern Washington stretched the floor and used 11 made 3-pointers on 44-percent shooting to pull off a 67-61 win; the Griz haven’t made more than seven 3-pointers or shot better than 38.5 percent in a game.
Portland State scored 40 points off of 28 turnovers they forced in its 87-78 win; the Griz don’t play with the same pressure as the Vikings but are 15th in Division I with 19.17 turnovers forced per game.
“We have to find a way to be the aggressor,” Griz head coach Travis DeCuire said. “If we do that and we force turnovers like we have in the past and we crash the glass and block off, we’ll have a chance.
Both the Eagles and Vikings are veteran teams, while the Griz have a mix of veterans and newcomers. Stanford returned four starters from last year but has been starting three freshmen in Daejon Davis, Isaac White and Oscar Da Silva. They’re averaging 8.3, 11.1 and 7.6 points, respectively.
While the message from DeCuire to his team has been to respect the opponent, there’s a sense that the Griz could chop down the Cardinal.
“They’re vulnerable,” DeCuire said. “There’s no question about that because they’ve lost games.”
He added: “You always have a little sense of confidence, but I think sometimes confidence creates failure, too, because you could be overconfident and not take something seriously. … Are we mentally tough enough to go get the job done? We won’t know that until the ball goes up.”
Feeling at home in California
Montana freshman Karl Nicholas has made quite the second home in California.
The 6-foot-8 forward from Pearland, Texas, was recruited by Griz associate head coach Chris Cobb when he was at a MaxPreps tournament in California around Christmas time. He’s Montana’s first recruit from Texas.
He became close friends with Bay Area natives Timmy Falls and Sayeed Pridgett and spent time there with them when Hurricane Harvey hit this summer.
He also had his best two games in a Griz uniform at the Malibu subregional of the Legends Classic last week, playing a total of 46 minutes. He scored a career-high 11 points with four rebounds against Oral Roberts and added 10 points and five rebounds against UC Santa Barbara.
He returns to the Golden State and is looking to continue that roll. In his four other games, he’s totaled just 10 points and eight rebounds in 33 total minutes because he got into foul trouble.
Against Stanford, he’s looking forward to the challenge of guarding Stanford’s 6-foot-8 dynamic Reid Travis, a 2016-17 first-team All-Pac-12 selection who’s averaging 21.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Travis struggles to drive left, so the focus is to take away his right hand.
“I like big matchups like that, so I hope I guard him and take a few charges on him,” Nicholas said.
Travis may be the most physical player the Griz play all season.
“He’s a football player with basketball skills,” DeCuire said. “He brings a physical presence you can’t emulate in practice. He’s been very dominant this early in the season. We have to find ways to slow him down without leaving shooters open and letting guys do what they do.”
Stanford’s size and offensive rebounding are the most concerning factors heading into the game, DeCuire said. Michael Humphrey, a 6-foot-9 senior, is adding 10.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-9 Da Silva is grabbing 6.1 boards.
The focus is taking away drives down the middle of the lane and not letting the post players get to the rim. They also have to be aware to not give up easy kick-out passes from the paint for wide-open looks at the 3-point line.
“The other four guys on the floor have to be able to guard their guy, and that’s something we haven’t been able to do super well,” Moorehead said. “Just being able to man up and stay in front of your man is something that’s really important.”