011217 Walter Wright

Montana guard Walter Wright drives toward the basket against Idaho State's Brandon Boyd earlier this season.

KURT WILSON, Missoulian

Northern Colorado’s previous appearance in Dahlberg Arena will not soon be forgotten.

The Bears showed up on the final day of the regular season last year and denied Montana a piece of the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball title.

The Griz led that game by seven at halftime, but allowed Northern Colorado to shoot 50 percent from the floor and to make 20 free throws in the second half, allowing the Bears to leave with a 78-72 win on senior night.

Griz coach Travis DeCuire and his players haven’t forgotten.

“No question, we owe everyone in this conference something and with each one we’ll write a little something different on the board as they would do for us,” said DeCuire, whose Griz will host the Bears on Thursday at 7 p.m. “We’ve got to not let games like that slip away from us. Our guys going into that game felt like it was a done deal. There were distractions with senior night. There were a lot of things going on going into that game that kept us from being focused on the task at hand. We can’t let that happen anymore.”

The Bears are without the two players -- Anthony Johnson and Jordan Wilson -- who did the most damage in last season’s game, combining for 46 points. But returning is sophomore guard Jordan Davis, who is fourth in the league in scoring (20.3) and first in assists (5.7).

“He uses a lot of ball screens,” DeCuire said. “Most of the time when he has the ball in his hands, he ends the possession, whether it’s a shot or a pass.”

In the Bears’ last game, an 83-79 home win over Northern Arizona, 6-foot-6 junior DJ Miles exploded for 36 points, making 10 3-pointers.

“You can’t defend the ball screen the same way you would with most posts that don’t shoot,” DeCuire said. “Teams have been hedging and leaving him wide open for shots. Seventy-five percent of his made shots are threes, so how does he get 17 attempts? I have no idea.”

Northern Colorado is ineligible for the postseason this year after self-reporting unspecified infractions that cost coach BJ Hill his job. The Bears opened league play with a road sweep of Sacramento State and Portland State under first-year coach Jeff Linder.

“They’re a good offensive team,” DeCuire said. “They execute offense very well. They know who they want to get shots and their better shooters are getting the bulk of the shots. When you do that you’re going to put points on the board. I don’t think they beat themselves. I think Davis was a kid who got a lot of experience as a freshman, so a lot like (Griz) Michael Oguine, he’s not your typical sophomore.”

The Griz are coming off an impressive road sweep of Idaho and Eastern Washington. While there might be some momentum building, the Griz aren’t taking anything for granted.

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“Good, very positive, but nowhere near complacent,” DeCuire said of the team’s frame of mind. “We need to continue to play better basketball, so we felt fortunate to get out with two wins. A couple of balls bounce a different way and you could feel different about where you stand in the standings. We have to look back and find areas of improvement and build on those. We continue to grind.”

The Griz will see yet another explosive guard when North Dakota and Quinton Hooker visit on Saturday.

“They’re the same team they were last year in terms of personnel,” DeCuire said. “Hooker is a guy who was voted (preseason) player of the year by the coaches. We have a great deal of respect for him. He scored 35 to 40 on a lot of teams in this conference. We refuse to be one of those teams that gives that up. That being said, they have other players -- (Geno) Crandall, their posts are aggressive, they’re a very balanced team. They’re a team you have to bring a high level of respect for or you’ll be in trouble.”

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NOTES: DeCuire said Griz center Fabijan Krslovic, who injured his shooting hand against Idaho, continues to improve and will play against the Bears. “I can’t give you a percentage, but I think if he needs to make two free throws to win a game, he does that,” DeCuire said. … Senior guard Mario Dunn, who has been described as “beat up,” will be a game-time decision. … Senior Brandon Gfeller started both games of last week’s road trip in place of freshman Sayeed Pridgett, but DeCuire wouldn’t commit to a starting five. “Potentially, but nothing’s concrete,” he said of using the same lineup. “I’ve been known to make a game-day decision.”

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