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Montana v PSU 02.JPG

Portland State's Deante Strickland works to keep the ball away from Montana's Kendal Manuel (12) and Sayeed Pridgett (4) in the second half of last Saturday's game.

MISSOULA – Travis DeCuire wasn’t a man to mince words Thursday evening.

After falling to a then-3-12 Eastern Washington team 78-71 in Cheney, the Montana men’s basketball coach was candid when Riley Corcoran of KGVO asked DeCuire in the postgame show “where the panic meter was at” for the Grizzlies after two straight conference losses.

“I hit the panic meter in September,” DeCuire explained. “Our sense of urgency individually and collectively is in question and it has been. It’s easy to come up with excuses. … At some point in time, you have to look in that mirror and you have to make it happen and right now we have 15 guys that need to look in that mirror.”

The loss to a pair of Big Sky Conference bottom feeders is serving as a wakeup call for the Griz (10-6, 3-2), the preseason conference favorites. That improvement must come quickly if UM wants to avoid falling to 3-3 in the early stretch of the conference schedule.

If there was a time to come back with a statement game, Saturday’s contest would be the one, but it will serve as one of UM’s toughest challenges. Montana travels to Northern Colorado for a 2 p.m. tipoff in Greeley. The Bears currently sit alone atop the conference standings at 4-0 in league play and 10-5 overall.

UNC senior guard Jordan Davis has made a legit claim to be the conference’s player of the year once it’s all said and done. After testing NBA Draft waters a year ago without hiring an agent, Davis is back for his final run and it’s been one to remember. Davis averages 25.2 points per game, good for sixth in the country. He’s been named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week three times this year and twice in the past three weeks. Davis converts 48.5 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from deep. 

“We’ve seen a few of those guys this year and I think what happens is you need to minimize the easy shots,” DeCuire said about Davis. “He’s going to get his 25 to 30 shots, that’s just what he does, so we need to keep his field goal percentage down and not let others go off.”

Northern Colorado is the only team in the conference that ranks in the top three in scoring offense (second, 81.6 points per game) and scoring defense (third, 71.9). The Bears’ 47.7 field goal percentage is second in the Big Sky as is their 3-point marksmanship at 38.3 percent.

Last year in the Big Sky Conference tournament, Montana came back from a six-point deficit in the final minute to force overtime against the Bears before winning that semifinal match and advancing to the championship.

After cruising through a four-game winning streak, DeCuire pointed to lack of intensity, focus, attention to details and respect for their opponent as the reason behind the Grizzlies' recent struggles in his postgame interview Thursday.

As far as any positives, DeCuire saw a few from individual players whether it be senior Michael Oguine’s aggression on the glass and spreading the floor while junior Sayeed Pridgett came up big on the boards as well. But, consistency is another area DeCuire would like to see improve.

“Problem is, none of these guys play well on the same night,” he told KGVO. “It’d be nice to get three or four of these guys to play well on the same night as opposed to two, and then you might have a good team.”

Against Eastern Washington and in the second half and overtime of the Portland State game, Montana is 4-for-34 from the 3-point line.

“We’re going to need to play better than we did tonight,” DeCuire said. “(UNC is) a good defensive team that is going to take away threes. We’ve been good at getting the ball in the paint and scoring down low. Our pace and transition are areas that we should be able to get some stuff.

“Our biggest deal right now is going to be defense. We got stops and held them to a decent percentage in the first half. We didn’t take advantage of the turnovers. Saturday we’re going to need to do that.”

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Kyle Hansen covers Griz men's basketball and more for the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com. Email him at kyle.hansen@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @khansen406

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