Montana (20-6) at Southern Utah (11-16)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Monday, March 4, 9:05 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Centrum Arena (5,300) -- Cedar City, Utah. Television: None. Home Record: Montana 11-1, Southern Utah 9-4. Away Record: Montana 9-5, Southern Utah 2-10. Neutral Record: Montana 0-0, Southern Utah 0-2. Conference Record: Montana 16-1, Southern Utah 8-9. Series Record: Montana leads, 6-5.
GAMES NOTES: Continuing their quest for their second-straight Big Sky regular season title the depleted Montana Grizzlies will visit the Southern Utah Thunderbirds for a league battle at Centrum Arena.
Despite Mathias Ward (14.8 ppg) and Will Cherry (13.2 ppg, 4.4 apg) sitting on the sidelines on Saturday, Montana edged Montana State, 71-68. The win improved the Grizzlies to 20-6 overall while improving their conference- leading record to 16-1. That has them clinging to a half game lead over Weber State with just two games to play after this battle. Montana will host Sacramento State and Northern Arizona in those two contests.
Southern Utah is faltering down the stretch with losses in its last four league bouts. The Thunderbirds also faced off with Montana State most recently but were set down in a devastating 62-61 setback on Thursday. The Thunderbirds are now 11-16 overall while a game below .500 (8-9) in league play. Southern Utah will finish off the season on the road with bouts against Northern Colorado and North Dakota.
The Thunderbirds gave the Grizzlies a fight when they met up in Missoula earlier this season but Montana pulled out a 73-67 victory behind 20 points from Ward. The win was the third straight for the Grizzlies and broke a tie in the all-time series which Montana now leads, 6-5.
With Ward and Cherry sidelined, the rest of the roster really stepped up to lead Montana over Montana State. Four Grizzlies scored in double figures, led by Keron DeShields (17 points). The team shot 49 percent from the floor and hit 11 shots from beyond the arc.
Cherry may be able to go on Monday though he is still listed as doubtful with a foot injury. Ward is out entirely as he continues to deal with a sprained foot. With those two not suiting up, Kareem Jamar (13.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.1 apg) steps out of his role as a complementary scorer and top distributor to be the leading scoring option. DeShields (7.4 ppg) clearly showed that he is capable of carrying the Grizzlies offensively when given the chance after he has spent the majority of the season coming off the bench. Though they are certainly a different team without Cherry and Ward the Grizzlies are the second best offensive unit in the conference, ranking second in scoring (71.3 pg) and field-goal percentage (.474).
Montana State's Antonio Biglow got a layup to fall with 1:11 remaining to down Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds had plenty of time to reclaim the lead in the final minute but had a missed jumper and a turnover on their last two possessions.
The Thunderbirds will have their powerful scoring duo on the floor for this contest. Jackson Stevenett (17.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Damon Heuir (15.9 ppg, 3.2 apg) are actually the highest-scoring teammates in the Big Sky with the two ranked second and third, respectively, in points scored. Stevenett is the more reliable scorer as he finishes off 47.3 percent of his attempts from the floor. Heuir gets most of his production from the wings and thus has been less consistent with his shooting touch (.374 FG percentage). There is a lot of pressure on their shoulders though as only Jayson Cheesman (7.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.1 bpg) adds more than seven points per game. Cheesman is more vital for his efforts in rebounding and protecting the rim as he is among the top five players in the league in blocks and rebounds.
At this point in the season it is clear that Montana is solid from top to bottom. Though they will have their hands full without Ward and Cherry against Southern Utah, the supporting cast should continue to shine.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montana 70, Southern Utah 67
03/04 10:33:38 ET