MISSOULA — The Montana men’s basketball team is one win away from securing a winning record in nonconference play for the first time in six seasons.
The Griz are 6-4 with two remaining nonconference games, the first of which is 7 p.m. Tuesday at Dahlberg Arena against the UC Irvine Anteaters (4-9). Prior to tip-off, the team will honor former Griz player Delvon Anderson, who died in August, with a Legends of the Game award. UC Irvine assistant coach Blaine Taylor was Anderson’s coach at Montana.
“There’s a lot of emotion to that, but at the end of the day, we still have to treat it like a regular basketball game,” Griz head coach Travis DeCuire said after Sunday’s win. “I can’t change my approach or what I talk about or how important I want it to be to my team because they need to approach it the same way they approached today’s game. It’ll be fun, it’ll be meaningful. I’ll never forget the moment.”
As the Griz try to reach new heights, they’ll have to deal with the Anteaters’ size in the post and in the paint. UC Irvine has six players who are listed at 6-foot-8 or taller, four of whom have played this season.
The Griz will be tested on the boards because of that height. They’ve outrebounded eight of their first 10 opponents, but UC Irvine is averaging 42.3 rebounds per game — 10th in Division I — with a margin of plus-7.5.
The Anteaters are holing opposing team to 39.5 percent shooting, which ranks 45th in Div. I. They've blocked 64 shots and have three players with 11 or more, paced by Jonathan Galloway’s 25. One way to counteract that is to go with more shot fakes, forward Jamar Akoh said.
“They’ll be big, probably bigger than anyone we’ve played all year, other than maybe Stanford,” DeCuire said. “They’ll be aggressive. They’re a team that expects to win every night because they have won a lot. Their swagger, their confidence is going to be a lot different than some of the teams we’ve played. We’re going to have to come out, perform and be on our ‘A’ game to pull out a win.”
UC Irvine was selected to finish first in the Big West preseason media poll. The Griz have gone 2-1 against Big West teams; they beat Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside, selected seventh and eighth, and lost to UC Santa Barbara, selected sixth.
The Anteaters come to Missoula on a four-game losing streak and are 1-7 on the road. They’ve lost to three Power Five teams, two Mountain West teams and 9-2 St. Mary’s. They have a home win over Northern Arizona, 77-71, the lone Big Sky team they’ve played.
Offensively, the Anteaters spread the ball around and are averaging 72.2 points per game in a half-court offense that uses ball screens. They have five players averaging 9.2 points or more, with Evan Leonard pacing the team at 10.5 points.
They’re shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 37.1 percent on 3-pointers.
They have 13 players who have played in at least four games, and they have nine who have started at least one game. Galloway is the only player who has started all 13 games.
“We just have to play everybody to their strengths and figure out what to do,” DeCuire said. “It’s going to make it harder for preparation because there’s so many guys to discuss. We have to go out and play our game.”