GAME NOTES: The top two teams in the Big Sky Conference get together at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula on Saturday night, as the Montana Grizzlies clash with the Weber State Wildcats.
Montana has been a blur in conference games the last two seasons, winning 20 straight league bouts now, thanks to a 70-51 romp over Idaho State on Thursday night. A perfect 9-0 in conference this year, the Griz have won 10 of the last 11 games on the schedule overall, the lone loss during the run coming by a single point in double-overtime to South Dakota State in the middle of December.
As for the Wildcats, they too were cruising right along in conference play until this week, having won the first eight league bouts and nine straight games overall. However, Thursday night saw the team upset by Montana State (79-74) on the road, which means WSU is like every other program in the Big Sky, chasing Montana at this point.
The Wildcats, who are slated to host Montana on Valentine's Day, own a 64-49 advantage in the all-time series, but the Grizzlies closed the gap slightly by taking two of the three meetings last season.
Davion Berry scored a game-high 24 points, connecting on 6-of-8 shots behind the 3-point line, but even that effort was not good enough to keep the Wildcats from landing in the loss column two nights ago. Scott Bamforth and Kyle Tresnak accounted for 14 and 13 points, respectively, the former doing his damage beyond the arc (4-of-7) and the latter close enough to the basket where he could also collect a team-high eight rebounds along the way. In conference play the Wildcats are still outscoring the competition by more than 13 ppg, thanks to 50.3 percent shooting from the floor and an outstanding 44.6 percent out on the perimeter. The squad is averaging just under eight 3- pointers per outing, which dwarfs opponents who are credited with slightly more than three triples per game. Bamforth, responsible for 27 3-pointers of his own, leads the group in scoring with 15.2 ppg.
Thanks to 57.1 percent shooting from the field in the first half two nights ago, Idaho State actually led Montana at the break, but that was before the Grizzlies went to work at the defensive end of the floor. The Bengals were limited to just five made field goals in the final 20 minutes of action, including 1-of-6 on the outside, as Montana ran away with the win. Mathias Ward tallied 21 points, Spencer Coleman 20 on 8-of-9 shooting, while Kareem Jamar filled out his stat line with 11 points, seven boards and seven assists. The three players who have started all nine conference games for the Griz are also the only ones who are scoring in double figures right now, with Ward checking in at 16.1 ppg, Jamar accounting for 13.9 ppg and Will Cherry posting 12.3 ppg. Cherry is also credited with 46 assists, which is one way in which he makes others forget about the fact that he is shooting only 36.3 percent from the floor.
A clash of the titans in the Big Sky, the Grizzlies should hold an advantage because they are at home, but don't count out the Wildcats completely, especially since they have a chip on their shoulder from last season.
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