With the run this Idaho team is on, it’s fair to wonder if there is even anything to be scared of.
As the Vandals (13-10, BSC 9-3) kick off the home stretch of the season with four of their final six regular season games on the road, there is at least one more big challenge Idaho will have to withstand.
The Vandals will travel to take on both of the Montana teams this weekend. Their matchup with Montana (12-12, BSC 8-5) produces some interesting storylines to follow as the team continues its push for a good seed.
Montana features a unique mirror image of Idaho. The Grizzlies are only a game and a half behind Idaho in the standings, which mostly results from their stingy defense. Montana is second in the conference, allowing only 62.8 points per game.
On the offensive side, the two teams could not be more different.
Idaho shoots and makes more threes than any team in the Big Sky, resulting in a sped-up game that allows the Vandals to put up 73.9 points per game. Montana thrives on limiting possessions and slowing the pace, which is reflected in their 61.8 points per game. Idaho has the second-best offense in the conference, while the Grizzlies claim the second worst.
If there is one individual to look out for on Montana’s side, it would be sophomore guard McKenzie Johnston. Johnston leads the Grizzlies in points per game with 11, and she leads the Big Sky with 4.9 assists per game. Montana does not push for offensive fireworks, but Johnston provides enough pop to warrant extra consideration.
Saturday’s game will be another edition of unstoppable force versus immovable object. Which side will blink first?
The momentum is clearly in Idaho’s favor. Much has been said about Idaho’s winning streak and newfound rebounding prowess, but Montana’s recent skid deserves more attention.
The Grizzlies lost both games on their road trip to Portland State and Sacramento State. Both losses were by double digits and both teams feature strong offenses. Portland State and Sacramento State are right behind Idaho with the third and fourth best offenses in the conference. Montana may feature a strong defense, but they definitely failed their most recent test against potent offenses.
Idaho has also gotten the better of Montana in their recent matchups. The Vandals won by at least 25 in both of last season’s contests, with particularly strong showings from junior guard Taylor Pierce. Pierce poured in 22 points on 8-12 shooting on the team’s last trip to Missoula.
The Vandals have dominated the conference as a whole recently and they seem to be getting a shot at Montana at just the right time.
Idaho is averaging more than 81 points over their last six games. Montana has put up a point-total over 80 only once all season.
The Vandals can rely on three different players to carry the team offensively and drown Montana with volume. The only way that the Grizzlies could squeak out a win is if Idaho gets into early foul trouble or somehow forgets that they are the best 3-point shooting team in the conference. Expect Idaho to pull away early and maintain a double-digit lead throughout most of the game.
All statistics as of Thursday morning are subject to change.
Jonah Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jonahpbaker