The difference between the Big Sky and Big Ten was never more evident than it was on Thursday. Montana came into the game playing about as well as you could play, having won 14 straight games and winning the Big Sky, but they ran into a Badgers buzzsaw in the first round.
Montana kept things interesting early, but Wisconsin began to pull away late in the first half, and continued after Montana came out a bit listless after the break. By the time things were over, Wisconsin was the winner, 73-49. They were simply the far superior team on this day, and showed it in every aspect of the game.
The thought was that Montana could make things very interesting if they could hold the Badgers in check from the outside, where they get a lot of their offense. However, that didn't happen, as Wisconsin made six of their first nine threes, and finished 10-19 from the field. Simply put, with their defense, they are tough for anyone to beat when they shoot the ball that well.
As mentioned, defensively Wisconsin was outstanding, using their signature man-to-man to shut down the Grizzlies. Montana made just 38% of their shots, and were just 3/9 from downtown. That they only got nine three-point attempts despite trailing most of the game is a testament to the Badgers, who excel in not allowing their opponents to get a lot of good looks from the outside.
In his final collegiate game, Art Steward was their star, with 18 points, as he kept them in it early. Their other senior starter, Derek Selvig also played well in the first half, keeping the Grizzlies within shooting distance. But it was Montana's offensive stars that never got going. Will Cherry was just 3/14, and picking up his second foul in the first half was killer. Kareem Jamar was 3/8 for six points, and Mathias Ward was 1/5 for five points. For a team without much depth, they couldn't have their stars struggle, but that is what happened.
The season ends in disappointment for Montana, but it was still a successful year. They won the outright conference championship for the first time in a long time, and showed by the end of the year that they were the class of the conference. They will finish with a record of 25-7, and have the pieces in place to be even better next year. They simply ran into a better team today.
But we will be hearing much more about Montana in the future.
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