Northern Arizona (3-8) at Montana (5-4)
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 2, 9 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Dahlberg Arena (7,500) -- Missoula, Montana. Television: None. Home Record: NAU 2-1, Montana 3-1. Away Record: NAU 1-5, Montana 2-3. Neutral Record: NAU 0-2, Montana 0-0. Conference Record: NAU 0-0, Montana 0-0. Series Record: Montana leads, 61-30.
GAME NOTES: The Northern Arizona Lumberjacks and Montana Grizzlies are set to open their respective Big Sky Conference schedules tonight as they get together at Dahlberg Arena.
Northern Arizona has managed only one victory in its last six tries, a narrow two-point home win over Grand Canyon on Dec. 14. The Lumberjacks have been idle since getting throttled by top-ranked Arizona on Dec. 23, 77-44. That game began a stretch of three straight on the road for the Lumberjacks, who will travel to Montana State on Saturday.
Montana enters this contest seeking a fifth consecutive victory. Most recently, the Grizzlies claimed a 72-71 win at Idaho last weekend as senior swing man Kareem Jamar made a pair of free throws with 4.1 seconds remaining. Following this tilt, they'll host Sacramento State on Saturday.
Montana has more than doubled Northern Arizona in the all-time series, 61-30.
The Lumberjacks did not lack effort in their bout with the top team in the land, but they were unable to overcome a 36-percent shooting effort from the floor and 18 turnovers on Arizona's home floor. Conversely, the Wildcats committed only five turnovers for the game and shot 7-of-13 from beyond the arc. NAU trailed 41-17 at the half and finished without a single player in double figures. On the season, Quinton Upshur leads the team with 14.0 ppg, although he is shooting just 36.3 percent from the floor and 27.4 percent from the perimeter. Max Jacobsen (13.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Aaseem Dixon (11.5 ppg) have also been featured at the offensive end of the floor for the Lumberjacks.
Montana boast's the Big Sky's second-leading scorer in Jamar, who made those clutch free throws to seal the win over Idaho. Jamar, a 51-percent shooter from the floor and 38-percent 3-point shooter, is tallying 19.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per tilt. Jordan Gregory (12.7 ppg) and Keron DeShields (12.3 ppg) are also averaging double figures. However, where the Grizzlies have really struggled is on the boards, as they are -10.1 in rebounding margin. In last Saturday's game against Idaho, they did not lead until Jamar's late free throws, which were set up by a huge steal by freshman Mario Dunn. Jamar finished with 26 points and eight caroms, while Gregory had 19 points and four steals.
The Griz have found ways to grind out victories of late, but now the competition heats up as league play begins. Still, they should be able to win this one at home against a struggling NAU squad.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montana 75, Northern Arizona 68
01/02 10:33:34 ET