Q&A with the Grizzly Journal

by Face

Discuss this on Yuku

All-Conference Player Brian Qvale
Courtesy of Grizzly Journal
Wednesday night, our Dukes will face off against the Montana Grizzlies in Missoula, Montana. Looking to do a little bit of research on our opponents, I found a few online outlets for their fans and registered for a message board. The people who I communicated with on eGriz were very friendly - insisting that any fans who make the journey will be welcomed. One poster went as far as to say that if you go out with Grizzlies fans, you won't have to pay for a single beer.

Makes me wish that I could make the trip!

Among the friendly folks I encountered at the eGriz message boards was the upstanding gentleman who covers Montana sports on his blog Grizzly Journal. Go ahead, click that link and check it out.

The Grizzly Journal was kind enough to participate in a question and answer session about this game and about College Basketball life in general. The author was also kind enough to share some photos with us, one of which you see to the left. Get a good look; Brian Qvale is mentioned a lot below by Grizzly Journal. This is going to be a guy the Dukes must worry about. He also said that he'd send us some more photos after the game, so we're VERY happy to have established contact with him!

In any case, check out the Q&A after the break; we'll put a link up for our answers to his questions as soon as we get that part sorted out!

YD: We really don't see teams from Montana that often, if ever. What are some things about the Grizzlies that you think Duquense fans should know? When was the last time you hosted a team from out east in a conference like the A10 or CAA?

GJ: The best-known Montana stars are Griz-NBA alums Micheal Ray Richardson and Larry Krystkowak, but it’s Montana coaches who have made the greatest impact nationally. Most famous was Jud Heathcote who -- after five years at Montana -- coached Magic Johnson at Michigan State to the 1979 NCAA Title in the second of the Spartans’ nine March dance appearances during his esteemed career. Next? Mike Montgomery, who coached the Griz for eight seasons before heading to Stanford, where his Cardinals made 12 NCAA appearances (one final four) and won the NIT crown in 1991. Current Utah State coach Stew Morrill won two Big Sky titles as coach of the Griz. Current Old Dominion Coach Blaine Taylor was a Griz HOF point guard before assuming the reins at Montana for three conference titles... and then departing for Old Dominion of the CAA, where he’s currently guiding the Monarchs as a 9th seed in the NCAA playoffs. Former Griz All-American and Milwaukee Buck forward Krystkowiak coached the Griz to back-to-back NCAA appearances in 2005 and 2006.

Montana’s best-chronicled clash with an Atlantic 10 team came with their loss to the Richmond Spiders in the 2008 Football Championship Series title game. Otherwise, a second-round NCAA loss to Boston College (2006), a fall tournament hoops championship win over the then Jim Calhoun-led Northerastern Huskies (1985?) and a faintly remembered win over Rider University (1986) are the only exposure Montana has to teams from the Northeast.

YD: Everyone has their journey for the season. How did you guys get here? After the loss in the Big Sky Title game, are the fans excited for a little more basketball?

GJ: Montana made the 2010 NCAA playoffs, thanks to a monster 42-point Big Sky title-winning performance from all-everything (now departed) senior guard Anthony Johnson. Though 6-11 senior center Brian Qvale, and sophomore point guard Will Cherry were pre-season 2011 all-conference picks, the otherwise youthful Griz were tabbed as a 3rd-4th place Big Sky Conf. finishers at best. They are overachievers. The Cherry-Qvale duo led a fast-maturing squad to road wins over UCLA, Idaho and Cal St. Fullerton and a home win over Oregon State before surging to an early lead in conference play. Then Cherry sprained both ankles and the Griz limped to a second-place conference finish. 

Montana fans have been strangely passive toward this very young, promising team, but have averaged just over 4000 this year. Any figure over 4000 would be considered a good sign.

YD: Duquesne plays a high speed style that is focused on turning opponents over and getting baskets in transition. Based on your size, record, and stats, it seems that the Grizzlies look to play a methodical game based on a solid half court offense. Your relatively low PPG but high shooting percentages underscore that. What do you expect the play style to look like in this game?

GJ: The Griz are a legitimate defensive machine, having held opponents to a 14th ranked NCAA Division 60.1 points allowed for 2020-11. Qvale became the all-time Big Sky leading shot-blocker with a 2020-11 average of 3.0 blocks per game, good enough for 14th best in Division 1, while Cherry’s 2.7 steals per game ranks him ninth nationally. But... well, yes... Montana has struggled against faster, quicker teams. Expect Montana to try to contain the Dukes’ uptempo game to the half court, both on offense and defense. Offensively they like to “feed the monster” (Qvale), but usually win when they get double-figured scoring balance.

YD: Neither team has shot well from the foul line this year. Certainly it has cost the Dukes a few games; 5 or 6 strategically placed points and the Dukes could be 22-8 right now. Where has it hurt Montana the most? 

GJ: Missed free throws cost the Grizzlies two regular season wins, and one was season-wrenching... a 4-point, overtime loss at Eastern Washington in Montana’s final league road game that cost the Griz the Big Sky title and the host role. To add insult to injury, Montana clanked an icy 12-for-19 (63%) in their 65-60 Big Sky title loss at Northern Colorado last week.

YD: Most teams have a guy that could score 4 points one night then go off for 24 the next. BJ Montiero was one last year for the Dukes, though has found consistency this year. Who is a guy on your team who could go off in such a way (beyond your players who average in double figures)?

GJ: The Griz have three: undersized 6-4 junior jc-transfer off-forward Art Steward, freshman 6-5 wing Kareem Jamar., and 7-0 forward Derek Selvig. Steward, a good defender, has gradually upped his scoring production as he’s learned Montana’s system, but he struggles against uber-physical opponents. Jamar -- after breaking a shooting hand finger in early January -- is mere minutes from becoming a future Griz star. He earns confidence bonuses with every outing and is poised for a breakout... whether it’s Montana’s upcoming game against the Dukes, or next season. Selvig -- a big man at the high post with flashes of brilliance -- is streaky. But when he’s on the Griz usually win.

YD: Earlier you played UCLA and won at their place. (a) What were the keys to how you won there, and (b) What did your team learn? 

GJ: Simple. Montana matched-up physically very well 1-through-5 against a team with a similar offensive and defensive style. Secondly, point guard Cherry was playing his best basketball of the season on healthy ankles... and was unstoppable. Thirdly, the physical Qvale manhandled the Bruins’ interior defense... thanks to hands-off officiating from Pac 10 refs. In a kind of cynical retrospective, Montana learned that a healthy Will Cherry (and he’s still 100%) means the world to Montana’s fortunes.

YD: TJ McConnell has been a big part of the Dukes this year, sliding into a starting role as a freshman and winning Conference ROY. The Grizzlies' Kareem Jamar seems to have had a positive presence for your team, averaging 7.5 PPG and just under 5 RPG. How much has it meant for you to have a freshman who can come in and play meaningful minutes right away?

GJ: It means everything to Montana’s future. Jamar is a diamond in the rough as an inside-outside threat on offense, capable of rebounding with the big guys... and a summer away from turning into a top Division 1 defender. He will be one of three keys to Montana’s title hopes for 2011-12.

YD: One team must leave disappointed. Who will it be and what will the final score be?

GJ: I don’t care, really. I hope for a close, competive battle. But a combined score under 135 favors the Griz; anything else tilts toward the Dukes.