Aces are wild here on the first day of the first month of the 11th year of the millennium.
The Lady Griz righted the ship a bit with a pair of victories in the Holiday Classic Tournament in Missoula, but it’s the men’s team that won a fifth straight game by dominating defending regular season league champion Weber State University.
The victory, the team’s 10th in the last 12 games, serves as an early indication that this new group, with eight new players, is to be reckoned with in the chase for the ultimate league prize: a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Both league games were in the afternoon and speculation immediately arose that, given the declining Big Sky Conference attendance, playing during the afternoon – even on New Year’s Eve day – was just a bad idea.
Wednesday’s contest was forced to the afternoon because of the Lady Griz Tournament and Friday’s early start was to partially accommodate for a Weber State team facing a 10-hour bus trip home. That was if Monida Pass reopened after the snowstorm.
But the attendance was awesome at both men’s games as nearly 9,000 fans attended and were treated to a brand of basketball that hasn’t been displayed much by Montana teams in the recent past.
What is most impressive so far is the sheer joy, hustle and unselfishness this group displays.
They wear their emotions on their sleeves and there’s no lack of scrambling for a loose ball by diving to the floor or making the extra pass of the basketball to set up a better shot.
And there’s plenty of depth and exchangeable parts to this team, which also may be as versatile as has been on the Missoula campus for a while.
With last week’s win, Wayne Tinkle moved into a tie with Frosty Cox for fifth on the all-time win list with 80 in four-and-half campaigns. But what is most impressive is the guys on the list in front of the former Griz post player.
How about trailing Jiggs Dahlberg, after whom the arena is named, and current D-I coaches Mike Montgomery (California), Blaine Taylor (Old Dominion), and Stew Morrill (Utah State)?
Morrill got to the 91-win mark in just five seasons, like Tinkle, but Taylor was at the helm for seven seasons. Montgomery occupied the post for eight campaigns and Dahlberg, with 221 wins, was the mentor for 17 seasons.
There were plenty of naysayers when Tinkle was hired to replace Larry Krystowiak. But after becoming just the eighth coach in school history to win 22 games in a season after a 22-10 campaign last season and a subsequent NCAA bid, Tinkle has more than proven he belongs and will excel at the helm.
With 15 more regular season games remaining, hopefully followed by league and national tournament play, there’s an outside chance he could move past Morrill, one of his former head coaches, before the season ends.
And as usual with UM basketball teams, they are doing it the right way with high graduation rates, decent GPAs and keeping their names on the sport page instead of the news page.
What else could you ask for?
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