MISSOULA — The Montana men’s basketball team has quite the distinction defending the 3-point line — it’s just not a good one.
The Griz are the worst team in the country in terms of 3-point field-goal defense. The 46.9 percent they’re allowing opponents to shoot ranks 351st out of 351 Division I teams, through the conclusion of Monday’s games.
“I think it's just mental lapses,” junior guard Bobby Moorehead said. “Our defense is a lot of help-side, and sometimes we help when we don’t necessarily need it. I think that’s hurt us. Guys will be beat baseline … and that puts us in a bad position where there’s two open guys on the other side.”
The Griz have switched from the pack-line defense they used in head coach Travis DeCuire’s first three years to an aggressive man-to-man defense that’s forcing 19.17 turnovers per game, which ranks 15th in the country, compared to 12.63 last season.
DeCuire said the defensive switch was supposed to minimize harmful 3-point shooting. Despite this year's higher percentage, 3-point shooting hasn't been the deciding factor in either of the Grizzlies’ two losses through six games.
The Griz allowed opposing teams to shoot 34.5 percent in 2016, 32.2 percent in 2015 and 35.9 percent in 2014. Even with the higher percentage, they're still allowing about the same number of 3-pointers, with 6.33 per game this season, 6.31 last year, 6.18 in 2015 and 6.94 in 2014.
“Last year, we gave up like 55 percent from the corner,” DeCuire said. “The 3-ball is what beat us last year. The two games we’ve lost, it’s been one on one from the elbow. A 6-foot-5, 6-foot-8 athlete that beat us.”
In those losses, Penn State shot 50 percent and UC Santa Barbara shot 42.9 percent; both made six 3-pointers. Penn State's 6-foot-8 Lamar Stevens scored 25 points, and UCSB's 6-foot-7 Leland King put in 20 points. Montana also struggled in those games because of its own offensive dry spells.
In the wins, Whitworth shot 33.3 percent, Pitt hit 40 percent and Carroll’s group of sharpshooters made eight 3-pointers on 66.7-percent shooting. Oral Roberts made eight 3-pointers and shot 50 percent as the Griz gave up the 3-point line to focus on containing the inside presence of 6-foot-9 Albert Owens so he didn't beat them.
The Griz will face another big-time inside presence in Stanford's 6-foot-8 Reid Travis when the teams tip off 8 p.m. Wednesday in California.
If they focus on taking away Travis and his 21.4-point-per-game average, like they did against Oral Roberts, the Cardinal have four high-percentage 3-point shooters who could make the Griz pay if they're consistent.
Stanford is shooting 35.5 percent at the 3-point line, which ranks 163rd in Div. I, with 6.3 makes per game.
“Keeping your guy in front of you and not letting him score, you have to take pride in that,” Moorehead said. “It’s something everybody on our team can do; we just have to choose to do it.”
Oscar Da Silva paces the Cardinal at 60-percent shooting (6 of 10). Isaac White has a team-high 18 made 3-pointers on 39.1-percent shooting. Michael Humphrey is making 53.8 percent (7 of 13) of his 3-pointers.
Off the bench, Robert Cartwright is shooting 37.9 percent with 11 makes on 29 attempts.
“If we can get to those … guys, I think we’ve got a chance of slowing down their scoring total,” DeCuire said.