MISSOULA — The Montana men's basketball team answered two questions regarding its offensive versatility with a resounding ‘yes’ during its past road trip.
Heading into the week, no player other than Ahmaad Rorie, Mike Oguine or Jamar Akoh had led the team in scoring. So, can they win when one of those three guys isn’t leading the offense?
On Thursday, forward Fabijan Krslovic tallied a team-high 21 points, three off his career high, and wing Bobby Moorehead added 18, second on the team, in an 88-79 win over Northern Colorado. Krslovic was Montana’s offensive focus heading into the game after expected defensive adjustments on Akoh, who scored 34 in the first meeting against the Bears.
They answered another question Saturday. Could their forwards carry them when their all-conference guards both had off-nights?
Akoh paced the team with 23 points in a grind-it-out 72-67 win over North Dakota. The Griz made adjustments to their posts when the Fighting Hawks tried to slow down the game and deny Rorie and Oguine, who combined for a season-low 21 points.
Krslovic added 12 points, tied for second on the team with Oguine, who played injured and scored the majority of his points in the final three minutes.
Those performances told head coach Travis DeCuire about the team’s grit. And they handled that adversity while on the road, where they won their seventh consecutive game.
“I think it’s a sign of maturity and trust,” DeCuire said ahead of Tuesday’s practice. “You have to trust the process. You have to trust each other.”
The Griz showed they can win in different ways when their strengths are taken away. That left the players with some added reassurance and encouragement heading forward, starting with Thursday's game against Portland State.
“I thought we were deep and could rely on multiple guys if we needed them to get the job done,” Oguine said. “We saw they’re more than capable of doing that. It shows how deep we really are as a team.”
That offensive flexibility, combined with their stout and rather consistent defense, presents more possibilities or scenarios that upcoming opponents should have to work into their preparation.
“It lets us know that we can control how we play every night, regardless of the offense, on the defensive end,” Moorehead said. “We can win games that way, whether we score or not. It’s really encouraging knowing that.
"In the past, we’d have to have multiple guys go for 20 to get wins. We don’t have to do that. It gives us extra confidence. We’re going to have off nights, but knowing that we have our defense, it’s big.”
That versatility, as long as it’s replicable, bodes well for the Griz the rest of the season. That’s especially true in the Big Sky Conference tournament and any potential postseason tournament they make, where their top options could be more easily negated.
While they’ve now shown that ability to adapt and be resourceful, it would be paramount to ensure that they don’t have to rely solely on their fourth and fifth scorers or only on their forwards every game.
Heading forward, DeCuire said his biggest concern is how the team handles pressure. As they continue to expand on their 11-0 conference start or remain atop the league standings, the interest in and talk about the team should continue to mount.
“We just have to stay focused,” DeCuire said. “That’s where your maturity comes into question — it’s how focused can you be down the stretch.”