UW-Montana: 'Hard Playing in That Game'

Dan Raley

Considering the seat he occupied at Alaska Airlines Arena, Isaiah Stewart easily could have been a season-ticket holder, a wealthy alum or a VIP spectator.

Purple and padded. Front row. Unobstructed view.

He had a perfect vantage point for much of Friday night's Washington-Montana basketball game, which the Huskies won 73-56.

Trouble was, Stewart was supposed to be playing, not watching.

The Huskies (4-1) found out what life was like without the 6-foot-9 freshman forward, who sat out two-thirds of the rough-and-tumble contest in foul trouble--and predictably it wasn't pretty.

"When you lose a guy like Isaiah, it was interesting to see how the guys would respond," UW coach Mike Hopkins said.

What transpired was a Huskies-Grizzlies outing not unlike several others in this long intersectional series, which meant it was filled with displays of temper, a shove here and there, fouls galore, technicals fouls and inartistic play.

"We ran into some adversity tonight," reserve guard Jamal Bey said. "It was hard playing in that type of game."

Stewart logged 14 minutes, just four in the opening half. Proving his worth in his abbreviated outing, he still led all scorers with 18 points, hitting 5 of 7 field goals and 8 of 9 free throws. A partial Stewart showing was better than none at all.

Without him, the Huskies coughed up an early 9-0, led just 31-29 at intermission and actually trailed at one point, 32-31.

It wasn't until Stewart returned for the final 8-plus minutes that the home team was able to put some real distance between itself and the Grizzlies (1-4).

In the big man's absence, fellow freshman Jaden McDaniels chipped in 14 points and junior forward Naz Carter added 13. Sam Timmons, the UW's only senior and Stewart's usual stand-in, logged nearly 20 minutes and supplied 7 points and 5 rebounds.

"It was a basketball game where we were trying to find a way," Huskies coach Mike Hopkins said. "I had a lot of crazy lineups."

Stewart played four minutes of the game before he was called for a pair of personal fouls and sat down. He came back in and immediately drew his third foul and was done for the half. 

Hoping for better after intermission, Stewart got whistled for his fourth foul with 18:45 remaining. He didn't leave the bench until 8:45 was left, drawing loud applause once he walked back onto the floor.

Ahead 52-43, the Huskies immediately fed their big guy and he got fouled. They didn't stop until this one ended.

He scored 6 of the UW's next 7 points and then their final 10. The Huskies had to do it the old-fashioned way: they went 0-for-11 from beyond the 3-point line. 

While Hopkins' crew went without Stewart most of the way, Montana had more to complain about. The Grizzlies were whistled for 33 fouls, had two players foul out and four others draw four personals.

An older officiating crew of Michael Greenstein, Larry Spaulding and Shawn Lehigh did not have its best night.

Montana coach Travis DeCuire, a Mercer Island product and visibly unhappy most of the game, and Grizzlies guard Sayeed Pridgett drew technicals, as did McDaniels for the Huskies, with the two players pushing each other in the second half.

Even Hopkins had to be physically restrained by his assistant coaches after one particular questionable call. 

"There's a lot bleeding out of him," said Timmons, who shared in the postgame interview session with Bey, with no starters made available. "It happens."

The Huskies will hope for a much less complicated effort on Sunday night, when they host San Diego.