Northern Colorado (13-17) at Montana (23-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, March 15, 10 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Dahlberg Arena (7,321) -- Missoula, Montana. Television: None. Home Record: Northern Colorado 8-5, Montana 19-1. Away Record: Northern Colorado 4-12, Montana 10-5. Neutral Record: Northern Colorado 1-0, Montana 0-0. Conference Record: Northern Colorado 10-10, Montana 19-1. Series Record: Montana leads, 15-5.
GAMES NOTES: The regular season champion Montana Grizzlies will try to collect the Big Sky Tournament crown again with their first challenge being a semifinal bout with the fifth-seed Northern Colorado Bears at Dahlberg Arena.
Whichever team comes out on top in this contest will square off with either second-seed Weber State or third-seed North Dakota in Saturday's championship round.
Northern Colorado earned a convincing 69-56 win over Montana State in its first round matchup Thursday. The win was the fourth straight and seventh in the last nine games for the Bears who are still just 13-17 overall. Northern Colorado is looking for its first return to the title game since taking the conference crown in 2011.
A pair of losses to conference rival Weber State and Davidson during BracketBusters weekend were the only two setbacks for Montana since mid- December. The Grizzlies are on a four-game winning streak as they open up postseason play after having collected their second straight Big Sky regular season crown with a record of 19-1 in league play.
Just like they did against all but one team in the conference this season, the Grizzlies swept the Bears this year to improve their all-time series lead to 15-5.
Led by a game-high 21 points from Tate Unruh the Bears shot 48.8 percent from the field to post the 14-point victory over Montana State. The Bears had a rather sizable edge on the glass in the game, 30-18, while also outscoring the Bobcats, 23-9, from the free-throw line.
Northern Colorado doesn't struggle much on the offensive end. The Bears are netting 70.9 points per game this season while connecting on 46.7 percent of their shots from the field. However the Bears couple that offensive performance with some lackluster efforts on defense. Opponents are scoring 70.4 points per game against the Bears on 45.2 percent shooting. Unruh (13.8 ppg) is the lead scorer for a roster that features three double digit scorers. Derrick Barden (13.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg) shoots at a 55 percent clip and is one of the better rebounders in the league, while Tevin Svihovec (12.1 ppg, 3.2 apg) pairs nicely with Unruh in the backcourt.
Montana had to get a win in last Saturday's regular-season finale to guarantee the regular-season crown. The Grizzlies did just that as they held off Northern Arizona in a 63-50 victory. The key was the difference in play in the second half as the Grizzlies hit 52.2 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes while holding the Lumberjacks to just six field goals.
Another big takeaway from the finale was the return of Will Cherry (13.3 ppg, 4.2 apg). The 6-foot-1 guard had been out since the Davidson game with a broken right foot but came back to score a team-high 14 points against Northern Arizona. Cherry's injury was bad enough but the Grizzlies already lost Mathias Ward (14.8 ppg) in mid-February with a foot injury. Kareem Jamar (14.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.1 apg) has had to carry the team by himself at times this season and was named Big Sky MVP for his efforts. As a team the Grizzlies are second in the league in points scored (71.3 pg) and field-goal percentage (.474).
There is one team in the Big Sky that has given Montana trouble this season and Northern Colorado is not that squad. With a healthy Cherry the Grizzlies will be too much for the Bears, and advance to the final.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montana 74, Northern Colorado 65
03/15 10:34:07 ET