MISSOULA — The Montana men's basketball team needed some introspection after Saturday’s overtime victory over Sacramento State.
The postgame locker room was subdued and the film session was “tough, honest,” and longer than usual, DeCuire said Monday. He added Tuesday that the Griz felt like they had lost Saturday and were "trying to bounce back from a win."
He felt the team wasn’t emotionally involved in the game while facing a conference bottom-dweller for the second time this season without any outside motivating factor. But they found a sufficient fight with enough time left to pull off the late comeback and win in overtime.
The external motivation is obvious this week as the Griz hit the road to face two of the top four teams in the conference when they travel to Eastern Washington on Thursday and Idaho and Friday.
Despite the 13-0 start in conference play, the Griz are still in search of a consistent internal motivation and self-drive heading into games. That’ll be of importance for them not only in the five remaining regular-season games but more so in the conference tournament.
“We have to evolve, we have to be mature enough to find a way to get motivated, forget your opponent and go out and play the best basketball we can play every night and control our own destiny,” DeCuire said. “That’s our conversation right now is let’s get better and play better and enjoy the process. You have to be excited to play the game.”
The Griz can tie the program record for most consecutive wins if they beat Eastern Washington Thursday to win their 14th game a row. A victory Saturday at Idaho would tie the 1968-1969 Weber State team for the best start in Big Sky history at 15-0.
They’ve already sealed their third 20-win season in four years under DeCuire. Their 20-5 record is the best 25-game start since 2006. And they’re one of six Division I teams who are undefeated in conference play along with Cincinnati, New Mexico State, Vermont, Rhode Island and Florida Gulf Coast
While their focus is taking games one at a time, they have much loftier goals than setting a win-streak record or going undefeated in conference play.
“It doesn’t mean anything if we’re not Big Sky tournament champs,” guard Ahmaad Rorie said of being 13-0. “We have to keep working. We have a lot of stuff to keep working on with our offense.”
“We know that our season comes down to a few games in Reno,” guard Mike Oguine added.
This week’s road trip is meaningful for the Griz in terms of seeding. Although they’re 13-0 in conference play, they own just a two-game lead in the loss column over Weber State. And they’re only three games up on Idaho with five games remaining.
On the trip, DeCuire is expecting to learn how hungry his team is heading forward.
“Do we continue to put ourselves in bad situations or do we executive phenomenally on the offensive end and be in the right spots defensively," he said. "We watched film and saw some bad habits we hadn't done in a couple weeks.
“Sometimes it takes an opponent you haven’t played who is within striking distance in the standings that demands your respect to bring it. I look forward to seeing that energy, enthusiasm and fire I saw a few weeks ago.”
Big Sky teams are 0-4 in trying to sweep the Eastern Washington and Idaho trip this season. Only one team has swept the trip since the Vandals rejoined the conference in 2014, and that was last year’s Griz team.
If they can do it again, it could potentially give them quite the boost heading forward.
“I feel like we’ll know we’re prepared to win three games in Reno if we can do this because these two games are as tough as any we’ll see in conference,” Oguine said. “If we get this done, I think it’ll give us a lot of confidence.”