GAME NOTES: One of the most heavily played rivalries in all of college basketball, the Montana Grizzlies and the Montana State Bobcats get together for the 286th time on Saturday night at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula.
Montana has been cruising along the last several weeks, enjoying a seven-game win streak since league play began. On Thursday night, the Grizzlies slipped by Southern Utah in a 73-67 final which means, not only has the team won eight of the last nine, they are also tied with Weber State for first place in the Big Sky standings at 7-0.
Meanwhile, Montana State has split six league bouts thus far but, despite being just 3-3 in the Big Sky, the team is alone in third place behind those two squads with perfect marks. The Bobcats have been resting since last weekend when they were topped by North Dakota on the road in an 86-73 final, snapping a four-game win streak in the process.
Montana State currently leads the series by a count of 147-138, but it is Montana that has posted four straight victories to draw closer to balancing the scales. The Grizzlies registered a 57-47 win in the most recent meeting here in this building in February of last year.
A controversial technical foul on the Montana State bench late in the meeting with North Dakota seemed to give the hosts the momentum as they eventually went on a 15-7 scoring run to capture the double-digit win last weekend. Christian Moon tried to give the Bobcats hope with his 21 points on 5-of-11 shooting behind the 3-point line, but the team as a whole was just 9-of-28 on the outside. Paul Egwuonwu and Marcus Colbert accounted for 16 and 11 points, respectively, in the setback as well. Overall this season, Moon is leading the team in scoring with 14.0 ppg, although he has only seen action in six games. Perhaps most troubling for Montana State right now is the fact that not a single player has started all 14 contests and that has prevented the group from having any measure of continuity. Perhaps that lack of familiarity has something to do with the group shooting only 41.7 percent from the floor at the moment.
Montana nearly let one get away from them two nights ago as they went from shooting 14-of-18 at the free-throw line in the first half against the Thunderbirds to just 17-of-29 after the break, allowing SUU to close the gap and tighten up the score in the end. Nevertheless, Montana still got strong efforts out of Mathias Ward who scored 20 points as he sank 11-of-13 at the charity stripe, followed by Kareem Jamar and Spencer Coleman with 12 points apiece and Will Cherry 10, to go along with five assists and three steals for the hosts. In addition to outscoring Southern Utah at the line, 31-5, it also helped that the Grizzlies forced 21 turnovers. During their undefeated run in conference play, the Grizzlies have been following the tone set by Ward with his 16.4 ppg, shooting 53.4 percent from the floor, while Cherry and Jamar check in with 13.0 ppg apiece. From a defensive standpoint, Big Sky foes are generating just 63.3 ppg versus Montana right now.
This matchup always has the potential to take on a life of its own, regardless of where the two teams stand, but this time around it only makes sense to take Montana as the favorite because it has been untouchable in conference and is playing at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montana 73, Montana State 64
01/19 10:39:22 ET
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