Northern Arizona (11-19) at Montana (22-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, March 9, 9 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Dahlberg Arena (7,321) -- Missoula, Montana. Television: None. Home Record: NAU 6-6, Montana 12-1. Away Record: NAU 4-12, Montana 10-5. Neutral Record: NAU 1-1, Montana 0-0. Conference Record: NAU 8-11, Montana 18-1. Series Record: Montana leads, 60-31.
GAMES NOTES: The Montana Grizzlies will look to capture their second straight Big Sky Conference regular-season title when they host the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks at Dahlberg Arena On Saturday night.
The Lumberjacks' goals in this contest are not as lofty as the Grizzlies' as they enter this regular-season finale hoping to earn one of the final slots in the conference tournament. NAU is currently tied with Sacramento State and Southern Utah for one of the last two spots in the tourney with an 8-11 mark in league play. If all three remain tied after Saturday's contest then the Lumberjacks would move on but just a tie with Southern Utah would be no good. NAU certainly hasn't done itself any favors with losses in three of its last four games.
All the Grizzlies have to do is win and the Big Sky Conference regular season crown and the No. 1 seed in the conference Tournament is theirs. Montana is a stellar 22-6 overall, sporting an 18-1 record in league action. However, Weber State (23-5, 17-2 Big Sky) is still alive in the regular season title chase. Montana also had just a single loss in league play at the end of the regular season a year ago and it is riding a three-game winning streak into this matchup.
Five players scored in double figures when Montana grabbed a 62-56 win over Northern Arizona in Flagstaff earlier this season. The victory was the third- straight for the Grizzlies who own a commanding 60-31 edge in the all-time series.
Northern Arizona rallied from a 14-point deficit in the second half but succumbed in overtime in its 83-79 setback against Montana State on Thursday. The Lumberjacks shot 56.5 percent from the floor and knocked down 5-of-10 attempts from 3-point range in the second frame but that success didn't carry into the extra session when they missed their first five shots from the field.
Gabe Rogers (18.3 ppg) did what he does best against Montana State as he scored a game-high 29 points. Rogers is the leading scorer in the Big Sky this season despite shooting below 40 percent from the field. The 29-point showing was the eighth time in the last nine games that Rogers has had at least 23 points. Dewayne Russell (14.4 ppg, 3.3 apg) is a proficient scorer in his own right while teaming with Stallon Saldivar (6.7 ppg, 5.8 apg) to keep the rest of the squad involved while having the Lumberjacks ranked at the top of the Big Sky in assists (14.1 pg). The issue for Northern Arizona has been on the defensive end where it gives up 75.5 points per game on 46.7 percent shooting.
With two of their best players lost to injuries, Montana yet again found a way to win on Thursday as it downed Sacramento State, 63-52. Jordan Gregory scored a career-high 21 points and the Grizzlies kept the Hornets to just 35.8 percent shooting to capture the victory.
Mathias Ward (14.8 ppg) and Will Cherry (13.2 ppg) both suffered serious injuries late in the season. Ward, a 6-foot-7 forward had surgery on Wednesday to repair an injury in his foot and will not return for the rest of the season. Cherry meanwhile, is also dealing with a foot injury and is listed as out for a fourth straight game. Montana isn't completely depleted though with Kareem Jamar (14.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.1 apg) giving the team one of the more versatile players in the conference. The 6-foot-5 swingman is averaging 20 points per game over the last four contests. Gregory (8.3 ppg) has also stepped up nicely to replace Cherry, scoring in double figures in each of the last four contests.
Head coach Wayne Tinkle has been able to get the most out of the Montana roster all season, regardless of who is on the floor. As long as Jamar keeps playing well and players like Gregory continue to step up, the Grizzlies should have no problem capturing the league title.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montana 70, Northern Arizona 65
03/09 10:45:19 ET