The Montana men's basketball team took this week to reboot.
A pair of unexpected losses at Portland State and Sacramento State served as a catalyst for the team to look inward. A team meeting provided that opportunity.
"At some point the guys have to start communicating about what they expect from each other and you have to take ownership of areas where you need to improve," said Griz coach Travis DeCuire, who termed the meeting very positive. "We got a lot of that. It was a heart to heart. We hadn’t had one yet this year. We all hit the reset button and we’re starting from scratch."
Much of the work has centered on Montana's defense in preparation for home games against Eastern Washington on Thursday and Idaho on Saturday. With good reason. The Griz gave up a season high in points in successive games, 88 to Portland State and 92 to Sac State, teams that are in the middle of the pack in the Big Sky standings.
After Saturday's loss to the Hornets, DeCuire said the Griz had some kinks to work out.
"I don’t know that we’ve had multiple guys play well at the same time," he said. "We’ve had major slippage defensively; we’ve given up way too many points. You score 81, 88 and 83 in losses, that should never happen. So our biggest issue right now is defense, getting stops and going back to the fundamentals.
"The other piece is we just haven’t clicked together. We’ve had career highs on the wrong nights. Fab (Krslovic) gets a career high in a losing effort. Sayeed (Pridgett) goes for 28 after being in a little bit of a slump in a losing effort. We need other guys to play well when they have their big games. We should win those games going away when those guys have career nights."
It's impossible to overstate the importance of playing lock-down defense if a team entertains thoughts of winning a league championship. In the past seven seasons, the best defensive team during league play -- as measured in points allowed and defensive field goal percentage -- has played in the championship game every year, winning five of those titles.
"It’s execution and it’s energy, to be honest," DeCuire said of Montana's defensive woes last weekend. "When guys haven’t played well, they haven’t been very energetic. When you don’t have 13-14 guys enjoying the process and cheering and being emotionally attached and involved with the situation, then it’s very difficult to play through adversity.
"The other piece is that we’ve had some game-to-game adjustments for teams and I think it’s led to slippage and we’ve had to go back to basics this week."
Eastern Washington top two scoring threats -- center Jacob Wiley and wing Bogdan Bliznyuk -- have traded roles since league play began. Bliznyuk is averaging 18.2 points a game overall, but just 13.0 in league games. Wiley is at 17.5 ppg overall, but 24.6 in Big Sky play, including a 36-point, nine-rebound effort at Weber State.
Lately the Eagles have been giving Wiley the ball on the perimeter and allowing him to create, something the Griz didn't see much of during a 65-59 win earlier this month in Cheney.
"They didn’t do it in Cheney; they did it a lot against Weber and they had success," DeCuire said. "He had it going that night. I think that was one of those where you feed the beast. He makes his first five shots so you just keep giving him the ball. Weber lacked speed at the five position, so his advantage ... was space and driving, more than post moves. They’re going to feed him.
"The entire time in conference, Bliznyuk and Wiley have taken half their shots, so nothing has changed. But he has gotten the ball in some different areas from time to time and we have to be prepared for that."
Krslovic helped slow down Bliznyuk in the second half of Montana's win over the Eagles on Jan. 7.
"I hope we don’t have to get to that point," DeCuire said. "I’d prefer to keep Fab inside where he rebounds the ball and kind of quarterbacks the defense. We’ll take it as the game goes."
DeCuire said last week's losses have lingered with the team, but in a good way.
"Yeah, hunger," DeCuire said. "We’re upset, we’re frustrated, we’re (ticked) off, which is exactly where I want my team right now. I don’t want to be complacent. Maybe complacency is part of the reason we go and get swept."
NOTES: After senior guard Walter Wright was held out of the first half of the game at Sac State, DeCuire said his "whole team is in good standing" this week. ... Montana's two senior starters -- Jack Lopez and Brandon Gfeller -- were 0 for 9 from 3-point range in the losses last week at Portland State and Sac State. They combined for eight points in the two games.