MISSOULA – Understandably so, Montana Grizzlies senior Michael Oguine was pretty upset Sunday morning.
UM lost in overtime to Portland State the previous night, snapping a 20-game home winning streak dating back to 2017.
The loss was a bummer, but Oguine’s spirits were quickly lifted Sunday afternoon as he was watching the Los Angeles Chargers visit the Baltimore Ravens to begin the NFL Playoffs.
“That was some redemption,” Oguine said. “I wasn’t in the best mood but seeing my Chargers pull it off, that was a great feeling. Shout out to them.”
Oguine, a Los Angeles native, is about as die-hard a Chargers fan as you can get. So as L.A. was slowly letting its lead slip away, he couldn’t help but feel like he’d seen this before, even tweeting “In the most Chargers way possible…” after the Chargers held on to win.
“It’s not easy loving them,” Oguine said. “They never make it easy, but we came out on top, and that’s all that matters in the end.”
But back to business is the mantra of the Grizzlies this week after letting Saturday’s game go. Montana hits the road once again for a rematch week of last year’s Big Sky Conference tournament semifinals and championship game. UM visits Eastern Washington on Thursday and conference-leading Northern Colorado on Saturday.
“If we’re going to have adversity, let’s have it now.” Montana coach Travis DeCuire said. “I’d rather it be in the first half of conference, than later.”
With Montana winning both games last year, DeCuire sees an opportunity for rivalries to be built. Montana erased an 11-point halftime deficit against EWU in the title game to move on to the NCAA Tournament. In the semifinal against Northern Colorado, the Grizzlies scored six points in the final minute to force overtime and ultimately win.
“I love adding a little flavor to each game, and it’s just another reason to get up for it,” DeCuire said.
While Montana is off to another hot start this year, the same can't be said for Eastern. The Eagles are 3-12 overall and 1-3 in conference play. EWU opened the season 1-9 and ranks dead last in the Big Sky in scoring offense (66.1 points per game), scoring margin (minus-10.7), field goal percentage (38.9 percent), 3-point defense with teams converting 39.5 percent of their 3s against them and rebounding margin (minus-4.5).
The Eagles did lose Bogdan Bliznyuk from last year's team. Bliznyuk became the conference's all-time scoring leader last year with 2,169 points. EWU and UM have two common opponents in North Dakota State and South Dakota State, both of whom the Eagles were defeated by and the Grizzlies beat.
However, it’s another tough scheduling run for the Griz. After Thursday night's game, Montana will hop on a plane and head to Greeley, Colorado, and prep for a 2 p.m. tipoff time on Saturday against the Bears, who are 4-0 to start the conference season.
“Oh, our conference did us an incredible favor and made sure we play in the afternoon with less than 24 hours turnaround by the time we get to Northern Colorado,” DeCuire deadpanned. “For us it’s one game at a time, stay hungry, and embrace an opportunity to compete. If you’re excited about competing, who cares how much rest you had and how fresh you are. Just go out and make the most of it.
“What comes around, goes around and there’s going to be tough stretches for other teams in conference and by no means is this an excuse. We lost Saturday and we had an opportunity to put that game away and didn’t and I don’t think the schedule (four games in eight days) played into that role. But with that being said, you look forward to adversity and creating means of motivation and right now, that’s our motivation is let’s go get this game Thursday and then on a quick turnaround, see if we can get it done against an undefeated team.”
“We just have to get it done. We’re used to it. I’m a senior and we have a lot of older guys on the team who are used to traveling and quick turnarounds,” Oguine added. “This year is especially tough with the new schedule, but we’ll adjust, and we’ll get used to it.”
The loss to Portland State is serving as extra motivation for this next road trip. A season-high 4,408 fans showed up on Saturday, a fact not lost on the team, so attention to detail and correcting those mistakes are key.
“It’s tough. Don’t want to lose at home in front of the fans. The fans came out and we want to put on a better performance for them and ourselves, too,” Oguine said. “We know we can play better than that.”
But as always the focus is moving on and conquering their second conference road trip of the year.
“You have to move on quick because if you dwell on it too much you end up slipping and losing other games and it’s another problem,” Oguine said. “If we can go out and win these two games, then that one loss won’t seem too bad. I think we can reclaim or at least tie the top of the conference so that’s going to be our goal this week.”
And after they wrap this road trip up, Oguine plans to catch the Chargers taking on the Patriots on Sunday. His prediction?
“I think Philip’s going to get his first win over Tom Brady,” Oguine said. “We have the best defense in the playoffs for sure. When our offense is clicking and we know our defense is going to do its job, so we’re going to be a pretty tough team to beat.”