Around the Big Sky: Grizzlies Prep for Rivalry Game Against Bobcats

By Beacon Staff

The Montana Grizzlies are ranked 14th in this week’s CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll. Weber State is 18th. Gonzaga is ranked No. 1, followed by Middle Tennessee State, Wichita State and Saint Mary’s. Montana dropped one spot from last week, while Weber State improved four spots.

Two weeks and 21 conference games remain in the men’s basketball regular season. Much is left to be decided. Five of the seven tournament bids are still up for grabs, as is the No. 1 seed. League-leading Montana hits the road on Saturday to face Montana State in Bozeman. MSU took the Grizzlies to overtime earlier this year in Missoula. Second-place Weber State has its final road trip of the season, facing Sacramento State on Thursday and Northern Arizona on Saturday.

Montana and Weber State are the only two teams to clinch tournament bids so far, but that should change this week. Third-place North Dakota hits to road to face Portland State on Thursday and Eastern Washington on Saturday. Eastern Washington enters this week’s home stand 6-10, hoping to make a push. The Eagles are at home Thursday against Northern Colorado (7-10).

Northern Arizona (7-9) plays host to Idaho State on Thursday before hosting Weber State. Fourth-place Southern Utah is at home against a Montana State team that has lost five straight. Idaho State and Sacramento State meet Saturday at The Nest. Northern Colorado is at Portland State on Saturday.

Here’s a recap of recent men’s basketball news in the Big Sky Conference:

Eagles Set Block Record: Eastern Washington set a Big Sky single-game record with 16 blocks in its 81-76 victory over Sam Houston State on Saturday. The Eagles’ 16 blocks broke the previous record of 13 set by three teams. Idaho State had 13 blocks in 1976 against Weber State, Eastern Washington had 13 against Portland in 1992, and Northern Arizona swatted 13 against Sacramento State in 1992. Sophomore Martin Seiferth had eight blocks, which tied five other players for the second-most in single-game history. Steve Hayes of ISU holds the record with 10 in 1976 against Weber State. EWU has 158 blocks this season. The single-season Big Sky record is 179 by Idaho State in 2005-06.

Weber Reaches 20 Wins: Weber State notched its 20th win of the season with a 70-66 road win over Oral Roberts on Saturday. This marks the fifth time in Randy Rahe’s seven season the Wildcats have won at least 20 games. This is the 25th time Weber State has won at least 20 games in a season since the inception of the Big Sky in 1963-64. WSU has 26 20-win seasons in its 50-year history as a Division I program. Montana is one victory away from securing its fourth straight 20-win season. Weber State is 31-4 in February since the 2008-09 season.

Grizzlies Lose Two Starters: Montana’s quest for a repeat Big Sky Championship wasn’t going to be easy with Weber State right behind the Grizzlies. The quest got even harder when senior forward Mathias Ward sustained a sprained arch in a win over Idaho State on Feb. 16. Ward did not play in Montana’s 93-87 overtime BracketBusters loss to Davidson. In the game, two-time All-Conference guard Will Cherry left late in regulation with a right foot injury. Cherry missed the first seven games of the season while recovering from a broken right foot. It has not been announced how long Ward and Cherry are expected to be sidelined. The X-rays came back negative on Cherry. UM has road games at Montana State and Southern Utah this week, before closing at home against Sacramento State at NAU.

Two Reach 1,000: Eastern Washington senior Jeffrey Forbes and Montana junior Kareem Jamar each scored their 1,000th career points on Saturday. Forbes, who has played in 117 career games, netted 11 in a win over Sam Houston State to hike his career total to 1,004. Jamar scored 28 with 12 rebounds and seven assists in a loss to Davidson. The 28 points gave Jamar an even 1,000 for his career. Jamar has played in 84 career games. Montana’s Will Cherry is the active leader with 1,429 points. NAU’s Gabe Rogers is second with 1,320.

RPI Report: Weber State has moved in front of Montana in the RPI – barely. Weber State has an RPI of 104, while Montana is at 106. RPI could play a role in determining the tiebreaker if both UM and WSU finish 18-2 in conference with losses to each other and Montana State. Northern Arizona is third in the Big Sky at 254, followed by North Dakota at 260. The Big Sky remained 28th among Division I conferences.

Weber Still Top Shooting Team: Weber State once again leads the nation in field-goal percentage, and is also leading the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage. The Wildcats are shooting 51.4 percent from the field, and 42.8 percent from 3-point range. Weber State also ranks in the top 20 in the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (5th at 28.2 percent), scoring margin (6th at 15.0), and scoring offense (20th at 76.1 points per game). Montana is eighth in the nation in free-throw percentage (76.3 percent). WSU’s Scott Bamforth is fifth in free-throw percentage (90.8 percent). SUU’s Jackson Stevenett is ninth (89.9 percent).

Ward An Academic All-American: Montana senior Mathias Ward was named to the Capital One Academic All-America® Division I Men’s Basketball Teams, as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). Ward, a 6-foot-7, 228-pound senior from Gig Harbor, Wash., was named to the third team. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in accounting, and maintains a 3.69 GPA. He has already earned a master’s degree in business administration. He received his B.A. degree in business and carried a 3.84 GPA as an undergraduate at UM.

Tip-Ins: PSU has won three straight for the first time this season … SUU’s Jayson Cheesman has 56 blocks, which ranks third in single-season school history. The record is 64 … SUU is 9-0 all-time at home against Cal State Northridge … Sacramento State has lost four conference games by one point … The Big Sky went 5-6 on BracketBusters weekend. The league went 2-0 vs. Southland Conference teams and 3-2 against the Big West … NAU’s Stallon Saldivar needs 11 assists to reach 500 for his career. He has missed two games with an injury … WSU’s Scott Bamforth is tied for 10th on the Big Sky’s all-time 3-pointers list with 214 … Home teams are 60-29 in conference games with 21 games remaining …

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