MISSOULA — Chris Cobb’s pants were drenched — and not because he refused to leave the theater during the movie to go to the restroom.
After the Montana Grizzlies won at North Dakota on Jan. 16, 2016, the associate head coach accepted a dare from his players to do a snow angel without wearing a shirt before the team went to see a movie.
“It was probably 40-below,” Cobb recounted Tuesday. “I did it just to prove that I was tough enough to do it. I couldn’t chicken out.”
What he didn’t foresee was how his sweatpants would get wet before heading into the theater. He ended up sitting in soaked pants for the two-hour, 24-minute screening of “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.”
“I did regret it because I was wet sitting in the movie theater,” Cobb said. “I didn’t anticipate that.”
The Griz (17-5, 10-0) and Fighting Hawks (8-14, 3-7) will play for the final time in Grand Forks, North Dakota, as Big Sky Conference rivals at 3 p.m. Saturday. North Dakota will join the Summit League next year, and the teams will meet in Grand Forks in the 2021-22 season during the Big Sky-Summit League Series.
The loss of North Dakota as an annual opponent takes away what’s seemed like a guaranteed win for Montana. The Griz are 9-1 against the Fighting Hawks since they joined the Big Sky on July 1, 2012, and are 6-0 under fourth-year head coach Travis DeCuire.
The trip to North Dakota, which includes a game at Northern Colorado, is considered one of the toughest in conference because of the vast travel. Combined with the turnaround for an early Saturday tipoff in North Dakota's Central time zone and the weather, it’s a trip the Griz won’t soon miss.
“When I think of Grand Forks, it makes Missoula seem warm in the winter,” Griz senior Fabijan Krslovic said. “It’s a brutal climate over there. When they have the wind going, you feel like you’re dying, even when you’re outside for 10 seconds.”
The cold weather was also a foremost memory to former Griz Riley Bradshaw.
“After a shootaround the night before the game, we would usually go to the gas station close to the hotel to grab a Powerade or something,” Bradshaw said. “I remember my sophomore year, five of us were walking there, and we got about halfway there, and it was so cold, but we’re like, ‘We can’t turn back now because we’re halfway.’ So we had to call a ride back when we got to the gas station.”
The games in Grand Forks have been close. Since North Dakota joined the league, the Griz have road victories by 15, four and four points, and a five-point loss.
On Feb. 12, 2015, Krslovic stole the ball with six seconds remaining and the Griz up 63-61. Jordan Gregory knocked down two free throws to seal the win, 65-61.
On Jan. 16, 2016, before the snow-angel incident, the Griz closed the game on a 10-0 run over the final 3:08 to win 65-61.
“Going to North Dakota has been one of those games that’s always been a grind for us,” Cobb said. “We’ve struggled there energy-wise on a Saturday to get going.
“It’s always been one of those games where you’re pushing to get through, you’re not bringing your A-game, but you’ve got to do all the little things to push through. The thing I remember about those games is they’re very competitive, really tight and having to grind through them.”
The Griz aren’t expecting to light up the scoreboard like they did in a 109-79 victory over North Dakota on Jan. 4 in Missoula. But they do expect a fast-paced game with turnovers leading to transition points.
Their offense did show some versatility in an 88-79 victory over Northern Colorado on Thursday. Fabijan Krslovic and Bobby Moorehead scored 21 and 18 points to pace the Griz, making it the first time through 22 games that someone other than Ahmaad Rorie, Mike Oguine or Jamar Akoh led the team in scoring.
Oguine missed the final 16:23 of the game after leaving with what appeared to be a right knee injury. DeCuire said after the game that Oguine could’ve played if he was needed.
North Dakota, on Thursday, ended its three-game losing streak with a 75-74 victory over Montana State. The Fighting Hawks neutralized Tyler Hall and limited the NBA prospect to six points on 1-of-11 shooting, including 0-of-5 shooting on 3-pointers, in 32 minutes.
They have one of the top starting lineups in the conference, with all five starters averaging between 10.5 and 15.7 points per game. However, they don’t have much of a presence off the bench.
North Dakota is last in the conference in scoring defense (83.5 points) and is still looking for consistency over 40 minutes. The team has won four of its past seven games and three consecutive home games after it opened 0-4 in conference play.
Montana is looking to become the first team in program history to win seven consecutive road games.