RENO, Nevada – Don’t expect a high-scoring game when Idaho and Montana collide Friday night in the Big Sky Conference semifinals.
Both teams are there because of defense. In Thursday’s quarterfinal, the Vandals held Eastern Washington to 36 percent shooting in a 77-73 win at the Reno Events Center.
Earlier, Montana was even more dominant in a wire-to-wire 70-53 rout of Sacramento State, in which the Hornets were held to 35 percent from the field.
"When we defend, and we scrap, and we play with intensity on the defensive side, it always carries over to the offense," coach Travis DeCuire said at the post game press conference.
The Vandals can say the same thing. Two wins away from their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 26 years, they will try to get there with defense.
Their 2-3 zone, led by Victor Sanders, was stifling against the Eagles, who made just nine of 32 shots from beyond the arc.
“We were who were are, we defended our tails off and we battled,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said.
The third-seeded Vandals (21-11) also saw the emergence of a tough inside game, led by Nate Sherwood; he finished with a career-high 19 points on 9-for-10 shooting.
“We executed our gameplan,” Verlin said. “We tried to pound it down low all night long, I thought we did a good job with that.”
The Vandals will need that again against Montana.
On Thursday against Sacramento State, the Griz (20-10) showed no effects from Saturday’s home loss to Northern Colorado, which cost them a share of the regular-season title.
A large portion of Montana's game plan revolved around Breunig, UM's first-team all-Big Sky senior forward, and his ability to control the post. That plan was well on its way to shutting down the Hornets when halftime rolled around, with UM jumping out to a 36-21 lead at the break.
In their lone meeting this year, Idaho won 63-58 in Missoula by holding the Grizzlies to 36 percent shooting.