Around the Big Sky: Griz Prepare for BracketBusters Game on TV

By Beacon Staff

A recap of recent men’s basketball news in the Big Sky Conference from Assistant Commissioner Jon Kasper:

On Wednesday, North Dakota travels to Northern Colorado in a battle of teams batting for one of the five remaining tournament bids.

Montana will participate in one of the 13 TV games as part of BracketBusters. The Grizzlies take on Davidson on ESPNU. Weber State faces an important non-conference game as it travels to Oral Roberts of the Southland Conference.

The Big Sky will go head-to-head with the Big West five times on Saturday. UC Riverside is at Portland State, Northern Colorado is at UC Davis, Northern Arizona is at Hawaii, Sacramento State is at UC Santa Barbara, and Cal State Northridge is at Southern Utah. North Dakota takes on Nebraska-Omaha of the Summit League, while Eastern Washington plays host to Sam Houston State of the Southland. Gem State rivals Idaho and Idaho State meet in Pocatello. On Sunday, Montana State plays host to South Dakota of the Summit League.

Here’s the current standings for the Big Sky Conference.

Wildcats End UM’s Streak: Montana’s streak began following a loss at Weber State on Jan. 14, 2012. It ended more than a year later at the Dee Events Center as the Wildcats beat Montana 87-63. Montana had a conference record 25 straight league regular-season games, and 27 overall against Big Sky teams. Montana entered the game with a 14-game winning streak, which tied the longest in school record and was the second longest active streak in the nation. Montana has not won a regular-season game at the Dee Events Center since 2004. UM still has an active streak of 24 straight regular-season conference home wins, a league record.

Weber Clinches Berth: Weber State clinched a berth in the Big Sky Championship with its 56-40 win over Idaho State last Monday. Weber State will make its seventh straight appearance in the championship. The Wildcats won three home games last week to improve to 13-2 in conference. Montana and Weber State have clinched postseason bids, and will be the top two seeds in the championship. Only the host and No. 1 seed will earn a bye to the semifinals this season. Weber State has won 16 straight regular-season conference home games. The Wildcats are 52-4 all-time in regular-season conference home games under Randy Rahe.

Fifteen Again: Montana rebounded from its loss to Weber State with a 61-54 victory over Idaho State to hike its conference record to 15-1. This marks the second straight season UM has won 15 conference games. This is just the fourth time a Big Sky team has won 15 conference games. Weber State went 15-0 in 1968-69. Randy Rahe led the Wildcats to a 15-1 mark in 2008-09. The Big Sky is playing 20 conference games for the first time this season. No team has ever won more than 15 regular-season conference games in a season. Montana’s next conference game is March 2 at Montana State.

Hansen Hits: Idaho State sophomore Chris Hansen made a school-record nine 3-pointers in the Bengals’ 87-51 win over Montana State on Saturday. Hansen was 9-of-11 from 3-point range. The nine 3-pointers tied for the sixth-most made by a Division I player this season. It tied for the fifth most made in Big Sky single-game history. The record is 12 by PSU’s Brian Towne.

Battling For Bids: Just 23 conference games remain on the schedule, and each one will be very important. Five of the seven bids are still up for grabs. Nine teams are battling for those bids, and the race will be very close. North Dakota and Southern Utah, both league newcomers, are tied for third place at 8-8. Sacramento State, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado and Montana State are all 7-9. EWU is 6-9 entering tonight’s game against Portland State. PSU and ISU are also still mathematically in the race. Since the Big Sky began a postseason tournament in 1976, Cal State Northridge is the only first-year Big Sky team to make the tournament. The Matadors qualified in 1996. Sacramento State hasn’t been to the tournament since 2006, while Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado both missed a berth last season.

Cherry Second In Steals: Montana’s Will Cherry had three steals in a win over Idaho State to hike his career total to 258. Cherry moved into second place on the Big Sky’s all-time list. Sacramento State’s DeShawn Freeman is the all-time leader with 283. Freeman played for the Hornets from 2002-06, playing I n 115 career games. Cherry has played in 111. Cherry missed the first seven games of the season with an injury. UM has a minimum of six games remaining.

RPI Report: Montana remained the top RPI team from the Big Sky, but Weber State is closing in. Montana improved 11 spots to 107. Weber State improved 18 spots to 111. North Dakota is third at 258, followed by Northern Arizona at 259. The Big Sky remained 28th among Division I Conferences. Davidson, UM’s opponent on Saturday, is 94th. Oral Roberts, Weber State’s Saturday opponent, is 110. RPI could play a factor in determining the tiebreaker for the right to host the Big Sky Championship.

Wildcats Tops In Nation: Weber State has taken over the top spot in the nation in field-goal percentage. The Wildcats are making 51.3 percent of their shots. WSU also ranks third in the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage (42.3 percent), is sixth in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (27.8 percent) and is eighth in scoring margin (15.5). Montana is eighth in free-throw percentage (76.3 percent). Weber State’s Scott Bamforth is sixth in the nation in free-throw percentage (90.5).

Tip-Ins: Northern Arizona’s Gabe Rogers has 222 career 3-pointers, which ranks ninth in Big Sky history…WSU’s Scott Bamforth has 210 career 3-pointers, which ranks 13th in league history … Rogers has scored at least 20 points in five straight games … EWU has set a single-season school record with 138 blocks. The Big Sky record is 179 by Idaho State in 2005-06 … PSU made 24 of 24 free throws in the second half of a 90-69 win over Southern Utah … SUU’s Jayson Cheesman and EWU’s Venky Jois each have 55 blocks this season, which already ranks tied for 24th in league single-season history … SUU’s Jackson Stevenett has scored in double figures in 18 straight games.

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