BracketBuster

Just getting used to flying across a couple of time zones then hitting the floor for an evening practice is one of several challenges for a Montana team looking to establish yet another degree of respect.

Mix in a nationally-televised afternoon game in the hotbed of collegiate competition without your leading scorer who also leads the team in field goal percentage and you can consider Saturday’s BracketBuster game vs. Davidson as an opportunity or a obstacle.

I’ll take the former mainly because I have been exposed to the heart and desire of this Grizzly team to someone fight through a myriad of uncertainties this season yet still stand on the verge of joining Mike Montgomery’s group (1982-86) as being the only four-year team to win 20 games in four consecutive years.

Granted the loss of Mathias Ward for a yet undetermined amount of time with an arch injury puts the onus on other players to have maybe their best-ever performance but I don’t see it as insurmountable and believe it can be done with prime contributions by several players.

Davidson is on a roll but the Wildcats also play in a one-bid conference like the Big Sky and look to this matchup to solidify possible future NCAA seeding and keep the momentum of an 11-game winning streak intact with two games remaining before the SoCon tournament.

With a perilous one-game conference lead with a pair of games remaining both on the road and at home to determine the tournament host role, it’s approaching crunch time for Montana who picked up a critical bounce-back win at Pocatello after losing to Weber State.

Practice at Belk Arena was spirited with Kareem Jamar’s half-court swisher setting the table at the culmination of the 75-minute outing.

Although ESPN’s Andy Katz called Tinks Will yet mentioned Will Cherry, he disagreed with Seth Greenburg and picked the Griz to get past Davidson.

Being the eternal optimist, I’ll join Katz with a Griz surprise.

 

  

Ouch

Facing a 2,500-mile journey across the country to face the 10th ranked team in the Mid Major poll without your leading scorer is challenging enough.

But to face the meat of the remaining league schedule with an additional pair of road games without senior post Mathias Ward to say the least would be a difficult proposition.

It’s wait and see for Ward who sustained an injury to his arch against Idaho State and undergoes medical tests this week to determine the injury’s severity and length of rehabilitation, Wayne Tinkle said during Tuesday’s radio show.

It’s a tough pill for Ward, who is the league’s fifth leading scorer and has played in 118 games for Montana, starting the last two seasons (55 games).

He will receive his second Master’s Degree this spring.

While he may have been sidelined at some time in his career, I don’t remember him missing much time and as tough and resilient as he is there little doubt in my mind he’ll do everything possible to be ready for the conclusion of league play next week.

While the injury comes at an important time with the Grizzlies heading to North Carolina, it only becomes crucial, maybe even critical, if Ward is lost for the Montana State-Southern Utah swing next week.

It is just another indication of how grueling a collegiate basketball schedule is and how tenuous is a team’s success.

While Will Cherry is scheduled to start his 100th game Saturday and stands just 25 steals off the league’s all-time steal record, he’s missed playing in more than games in his career including the first seven and the majority of the eighth this season.

Moving along, the Big Sky Conference remains a one-bid league and with the rating of the circuit I’m not convinced no matter what the overall record the league tournament champion – be it Montana or Weber State – can snare much better than a 14 and probably a 15 seed.

If another team happens to sweep the event, history says they certainly are a 16 seed.

News from Southern Utah reveals that junior wing Wade Collie has been suspended indefinitely after his arrest on drug charges.

The 6-foot, 6-inch junior faces a felony charge of possession with intent to distribute along with a misdemeanor charges of possession of drug paraphernalia, according to the Ogden Standard-Examiner.

A part-time starter in league play who did not play last weekend because of an injury, Collie averages 7.4 points and four rebounds and scored 10 points in the Thunderbirds’ 73-67 loss in Missoula while playing 23 minutes.

Originally from Las Vegas, he played a year of JC ball at Wallace State in Alabama before transferring to the Cedar City campus last season.

 The Grizzlies play Southern Utah March 4.

 

   

    

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Tinkle Show

It’s time for the weekly Wayne Tinkle and Robin Selvig radio show and both teams are sitting atop the Big Sky Conference.

There’s certainly a chance both men and women’s teams will stand to host the Big Sky Conference Tournament in March.

While the Lady Griz are idle for 12 days resuming action Feb. 28 at home against Southern Utah, the men are logging air miles to North Carolina for a BracketBuster game vs. Davidson.

The Wildcats are in the midst of a 10-game winning streak and now at 19-7 are ranked tenth in the latest Mid-Major poll.

And with one more Grizzly win Wayne Tinkle will become just the second coach in UM history to log four consecutive 20-win seasons, matching the span of Mike Montgomery from 1982-86.

Montana is just the fourth team in league history to win 15 games, matching their mark of last season. Of course that record will be set aside with the league’s new 20-game format.

So how long has it been since UM has had a pair of 1,000-point scorer on the floor together?

 I’ll let you come forward with the answer before I try to look it up but suffice it to say it’s a rare occasion and with 28 more points Kareem Jamar will join Will Cherry while Mathias Ward has now topped the 800-point mark.

As for Davidson, they stand atop one division of the Southern league and are outscoring opponents by about 10 a game.

Suffice it to say they seldom loss at home and it’s a marquee national television event for the Grizzlies.

On The Bus

When the shots don’t fall, especially when they are decent opportunities, it is easy for a team to become disillusioned and stray from the game plan making success even more improbable.

And when you are playing against a good zone defense like Idaho State that challenges one’s patience and lures players into sometimes less than efficient jumpers, well let’s face it takes more than a measure of character and confidence to prevail.

The Grizzlies missed their first six field goal attempts Saturday night in Pocatello and Idaho State burst to a 14-point first half advantage but a 21-point turnaround took Montana to the make-shift locker facilities at Reed Gym leading 29-22.

It seemed both team hit offensive snags with the Grizzlies hitting nine field goal before the intermission (36 percent) and ISU shooting just 35 percent.

But even when the last-place Bengals rallied to pull within three points with two minutes and change remaining, there was little doubt that led by Will Cherry this Griz team was not going to rebounding into the left-hand column after the loss in Ogden.

While lacking a shooting touch (1 of 8 field goals), Cherry stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points – eight from the free throw line – 11 caroms, six assists against a single turnover, a pair of blocks and three steals which moved into sole possession of the second spot in thefts in Big Sky Conference history.

And while Mathias Ward, Kareem Jamar and Mike Weisner also claimed into doubles, this was Cherry’s game to lead the way both physically and emotionally.

And the bounce-back win certainly made the 300-mile Beachliner trip back to Missoula from Pocatello a bit more tolerable.

But it was by no means giddy as this record-approaching team (four straight 20-win seasons) takes a short practice break before preparation to battle another Wildcat, Davidson, Saturday afternoon some 2,500 miles away.

For Montana it’s a showcase game that has post-season seeding implications but that possibility seems far distant with two league road games and a closing pair at home before the yet-to-be location determined league championships.

With a single-game lead there’s no room to stumble with Weber nipping on their heels and the importance of home court in the tournament, but that’s what this time of the season is all about.

And with their best hoop remaining on the horizon, this Montana team continues in some areas to improve.

And that makes the next three weeks even more exciting.    

  

   

  

         

Game Time

This is a Montana team that can’t wait to get back on the floor after a less than inspiring effort resulting in Thursday’s loss to Weber State.

But don’t take any credit away from the Wildcats who own the floor at Dee Events Center.

Shots didn’t fall early for the Grizzlies and Weber State took control early on and kept the peddle to the metal to leave no doubt the conference season is far from over.

But remember it really was a must-win scenario for the Wildcats who were the last Big Sky Conference team to beat the Grizzlies in January, 2011.

But while it certainly is not back to the drawing board for Montana, tonight’s opponent Idaho State is in a must-win situation if they are to make the tournament.

The Grizzlies feel confident playing against the Bill Evans zone which can cause opponents to be impatient and settle for jump shots rather than penetration and ball movement.

Spencer Coleman is back in tonight’s starting lineup after being replaced for a half by Jordan Gregory in Ogden.

With BracketBuster action against an excellent Davidson tam on the horizon next Saturday, it is incumbent for the Grizzlies to get off the dime early against the tail=ending Bengals, leaving no doubt that they are intent on running the table.

It is a healthy and enthusiastic group that hit small Reed Gym for shoot-around this morning more than ready to get after it.

Coleman hit for 20 off the bench when the Grizzlies prevailed in Missoula and Mathias Ward collected 21.

Look for depth and a strong rebounding advantage to figure into this one that tips at 7:05 p.m.   

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Back At It

After sustaining their worst defeat of the season at the hands of home-standing Weber State, the Grizzlies are right back at it Saturday at Idaho State which dismantled the Bobcats Thursday for just their fourth conference win of the season.

It was an uninspired Grizzly team that was run off the floor in the early going by the Wildcats who moved within a game of the Big Sky Conference lead.

Now after seeing their record-setting win streak set aside by the Wildcats who have not lost to Montana in the regular season at Dee Event Center since 2004 and facing three of five league games on the road, there’s little room for error or time to lick their wounds.

The Bengals have been less than impressive under former Griz assistant Bill Evans but they broke to a 42-18 halftime advantage over the Cats and with Bob Hanson netting a school-record nine treys ISU shot almost 64 percent in the victory.

Montana has beaten Idaho State six straight times including an easy 19-point verdict in Missoula.

After a short and relatively somber Beachliner trip from Ogden to Pocatello Friday the Grizzlies held a shortened practice at Reed Gym where the game will be played since Holt Arena is hosting a track event.

What is left to determine is whether the Weber State game was an aberration and can this talented Grizzly team rebound from adversity to continue making a run to a second consecutive championship.

What is it that they say: It’s not so much what occurs but how a team reacts that is the true measure of character.

Time will tell.

 

 

 

Game Day

Tonight’s Big Sky Conference game between Montana and Weber State is not an end-all scenario for either team but that certainly does not decrease its importance.

It could be said this is a must-win for the Wildcats who with a loss would fall three games back of the lead with five games remaining while Montana has the opportunity to move a game closer to hosting the league tournament for the second straight season.

Even after an extensive Beachliner trip, this is a loose, yet focused and enthusiastic Grizzly team hours before tipoff before possibly the largest and surely most vocal crowd of the year.

Stopping transition, defending the trey and keeping the Wildcats off the glass are keys cited by Wayne Tinkle with the team taking a bit of down time after shoot-around.

This will be a confident Weber State team that seldom is headed at Dee Event Center but I’m convinced this surging Grizzly team has yet to pique and has its best hoop on the horizon.

In compiling a 6-0 road record, the Grizzlies have shot some 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, and averaging some 72 points an outing.

If there’s an “X” factor tonight it is junior post Eric Hutchisson who has become a defensive stalwart the last few games and his ability to slow down Kyle Tresnak and Joel Bolomboy certainly will be key.

There is going to be runs by both teams tonight and the Wildcats will be fueled by their boisterous following and keeping not only the runs to a minimum and hanging around near the game’s culmination also could figure into this outcome.

The Wildcats also are going to want to prove they’re being disrespected by the pollsters who have them as an also-ran and Montana as the 12th best Mid Major team.

Conversely the Griz are seeking to validate this record-setting run to the top of the circuit.

But there’s plenty of league hoop left after this one and the two teams probably have to win one or two tournament games before they would meet again with the league ring in the balance.

Just about time.

 

      

 

Who Knows?

After a three-movie all-day Beachliner trip with stops in Dillon and Idaho Falls even after a 20-game season this is a young an energetic and fun Grizzly basketball team to be around.

And you might think on the precipice of what could be argued as one of the most important games of the year, they’d show some nervous or anticipatory tendencies.

Not this group.

About as talented as I’ve been around through the lineup, this not only is a fun group to be around, they’re also respectful and communicative and oh yeh sometimes a bit boisterous.

That’s why they’re so much fun to watch and even more, so enjoyable to be around.

I’m not into predictions and it’s a hill to climb in Ogden Thursday night where it’s been nine years since the last regular season Montana victory, but mark my words this team will make a game of it and be around when it counts and therefore one never knows the outcome.

Make no mistake Weber State is loaded and while it seems strange to say in the midst of a 14-game winning streak and with a two-game lead in the conference race, the Wildcats probably are the most talented quintet in the circuit.

The last time the Griz won here Wayne Tinkle was Pat Kennedy’s assistant and called to the helm when Kennedy was suspended for a game by the Big Sky Conference.

The result was the first of a five-game win streak that salvaged season respectability.

Dee Event Center will be rockin’ with the atmosphere worthy of such a matchup and with a chance to walk away from the remainder of the conference with a win, well who knows.

But it’s going to be fun!

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Home Court

So just how difficult is it for road teams to win at Dee Events Center?

Traditionally the league leader in attendance, the Wildcats have been virtually unbeatable in Ogden.

With Monday night’s victory over Idaho State, Weber State boasts a 49-4 home mark in regular season conference play.

And under Rahe’s tutelage Weber State has won 86 conference games, compared to Wayne Tinkle’s 80-30 mark cumulated during the same time span.

Talk about home court advantage.

Rahe became the first coach to win at least 10 games in seven consecutive seasons while Montana failed only to reach league double-figure in in 2007-08.

Surely Weber State needs no motivation for Thursday’s matchup but paramount in the Wildcat memory bank certainly is losses last season in the league Championship game, in 2011 in the semi-final round in Greeley and in the 2010 championship matchup in the A.J. game in Ogden.

It would not be all that surprising if better than 8,600-plus who showed up for the BYU game in December.

Weber State is in the midst of playing four games in eight days ending with the Montana State game Saturday.

 

 

   

There’s A Battle On The Horizon

Because it is less than 500 miles to Ogden Utah, it’s a bus trip for the high-flying Montana Grizzlies.

And with the game at Dee Events Center on a Thursday, the team will  board a Beachliner for the about six-hour freeway venture.

Team bus trips proceed amazingly fast as the seats are about as comfortable as possible, the movies generally at least entertaining and the conversation generally light.

And after what seems like several hundred such journeys I’m generally asleep either before the cabin door closes or the bus turns onto the Madison Street Bridge.

One of the most enjoyable things about my job is watching a team emerge and mature.

In the majority of times at Montana that process leads to highly successful seasons and often trips to national events.

Now whether that will occur for this record-setting entity is yet to be determined with a whole load of hoop remaining in the season.

But I have to say given the challenges of losing players you thought were going to contribute, injuries and other obstacles the emergence of this group has simply been amazing and one of the most enjoyable things I have experienced.

Credit of course goes everywhere but the most pleasing thing to me is this team’s depth and balance.

It could not have been more apparent than Saturday night when it seemed the entire playing lineup was going to finish in double figures and no matter where the ball was passed was a scoring threat.

But what about the fervor of the defense that yes occasionally makes mistakes but seldom gives up a transition bucket and just about as often allows an uncontested trey.

And a miss at the free throw line?

At last ranking they were seventh in the country in that regard with several players who are just money, never even touching the iron as the ball floats through to the net.

But Thursday it comes down to what have you done for me lately with the road battle in Utah.

Dee Events Center, the most attended facility in the league, will be rocking and the Wildcats will be anxious to prove they indeed are the powerhouse in the league and a look at their stats and you’d easily believe it.

It just promises to be a superb matchup between the league’s classiest and storied hoop programs.

I love this game!