RENO, Nev — Since taking over the Montana basketball program in May 2014, Travis DeCuire contends he doesn't pay attention to win totals. When he sits down with his team prior to the season he doesn't ask them to capture a specific number of wins, he just wants to wear rings and hang banners.
But at some point, championship and wins intersect and with a victory Thursday that propelled the Griz into the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference tournament for the second consecutive year under DeCuire's watch, he reached a milestone win no other coach in Montana history can claim.
With the 70-53 win, Montana won its 20th game and DeCuire became the only coach in the program's history to win at least 20 games in his first two seasons on the job.
"I'm happy to be part of tradition and I want to sustain it," DeCuire said before leaving the media area of the Reno Events Center to get a glimpse at Idaho and Eastern Washington, who were playing for the right to face Montana in the semifinals at 9:05 p.m. MST on Friday.
Thus far that's what he has done. The win Friday not only reached the 20-win plateu, but also sent the Griz to the conference semifinals for the fifth time in six years. And it was accomplished in front of person who has had a pretty big hand in DeCuire's success.
Blaine Taylor, who coached DeCuire at Montana and then hired him as an assistant at Old Dominion in 2003, was in Reno to watch his former pupil. Taylor is one of the most successful coaches in Montana history; he holds the record for most wins in his first year (27), which also happens to be a school record. Before leaving to join the staff at Stanford, Taylor also coached the Griz to two NCAA tournament berths and an NIT appearance.
"Boy has he hit the deck running," Taylor said of DeCuire. "I couldn't be more proud."
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DeCuire has already duplicated two of Taylor's achievements, taking the Griz to the NIT last season. Taylor isn't surprised by the early success his former assistant has had, but said it was preconceived notion that DeCuire would reach such heights.
"It's a pleasant evolution, it's not something that was assured," Taylor said. "There is a certain amount of impatience with every young coach trying to find his way to a higher level and then getting his first head job, so there was nothing sure of it. But you sure saw there could be a steady rise.
"Travis has always been a step ahead of what you asked him to do. You would ask him to do A and B and he would do A,B and C. He always was intent upon bringing energy to the situation and belief to the situation."
When member of Montana's legendary coaching tree met for a roast of DeCuire this summer, the common thread among the storied fraternity was that DeCuire was the right person to continue moving Montana's basketball program forward. He is trying to do so in a different way than any other previous coach, aggressively collecting talent he hopes will push the Griz into a program good enough to compete for wins in the NCAA tournament.
Despite the historic night, that's exactly where his focus is.
"I just want to go to the NCAA tournament like the guys before me," DeCuire said. "I'm not too concerned with counting wins, but what I am trying to do is get this one senior we have (Martin Breunig) to the NCAA tournament.
"I think our program is headed in the right direction, a different direction than those ahead of us, but in the right direction."