MISSOULA — The Montana men's basketball team wrapped up its regular season by beating Warner Pacific Saturday, 80-62.
The victory gives the Grizzlies a four-game winning streak entering the Big Sky Championship in Boise, Idaho, and also guarantees Montana a .500 or better record for the 13th consecutive season. Montana is one of just 19 teams nationally that can boast that accomplishment.
The Grizzlies are now lined up to be the No. 6 seed in next week's tournament, scheduled to face No. 11 seed Idaho on Wednesday at 3 p.m. Should the Grizzlies advance, they would face No. 3 seed Weber State in the quarterfinals Thursday at 8 p.m.
Next week was a big reason why head coach Travis DeCuire and his staff scheduled this weekend's non-conference games vs. the Knights, giving the Grizzlies an opportunity to play on back-to-back days, in addition to stringing together a couple more wins entering the tournament.
The Grizzlies' four-game winning streak matches a season best.
"We wanted to play two games, with a quick turnaround and no practice, and we got that," DeCuire said. "To be able to do that, and to get two wins and walk away healthy is a good thing."
One day after beating Warner Pacific 92-61, the Knights gave the Grizzlies a fight in the first half, leading for more than 5 minutes and entering the halftime locker room down just three, 41-38.
Montana opened the second half on a 9-0 run, however, getting production from three different players to push the lead to double figures, 50-38. The Grizzlies never let the Knights cut into their lead, leading by double digits from that point forward and by as many as 21 points.
The Grizzlies shot .519 from the floor in the second half and .500 for the game. Meanwhile, Warner Pacific shot just .357 in the second half and .383 on the day. Montana also out-rebounded the Knights, 21 to 14, in the second half, after losing the rebounding battle through the first period.
"Teams that can survive slow starts, and respond to teams who are off to good ones, are the teams who are going to win next week," DeCuire said.
Four Grizzlies were in double figures for scoring, led by Montana's trio of freshmen. Brandon Whitney scored 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting, followed by 18 points from Josh Bannan and 14 from Robby Beasley III.
It was fitting that Montana's freshmen led the team on Saturday, as early in the first half the group set a school record for most points ever by a freshman class. The trio has amassed 668 points this season, surpassing the 2002-03 group that previously held the mark.
"They're hung in there and have allowed us to coach them," DeCuire said. "They've been thrown to the wolves so early in their careers and have had everything thrown at them. For them to have this record in their back pockets as they move forward in their Griz careers I think is huge, and I can't wait to see them continue to grow."
In addition to Montana's freshmen, sophomore Josh Vazquez nearly recorded his first career double-double, totaling 13 points and nine boards. In the two-game series, Vazquez drained seven 3-pointers. Following Vazquez in rebounding was junior Mack Anderson with eight. Junior Cameron Parker tallied seven assists, while Bannan blocked two shots.