Kareem climbing up the ladders

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Think about this:

In the 50-year history of the Big Sky Conference just 23 players including Montana's Larry Krystowiak and Andrew Strait, have scored more points than senior wing Kareem Jamar.

And if he hits his 20 point or so average Thursday night in Missoula against Weber State "Reem" will inch within a decent first half Saturday of moving into the league's top 20.

But if you think finishing his career in the top five of all-time Griz scorers is more important to Kareem than how many dimes he dishes as he moves toward the top of that list, you'd be mistaken.

With six points vs. Weber State Jamar moves past Wildcat legend Willie Sojourner and into 23rd on the all-time list but with 386, he stands fifth on Montana's all-time assist list with the chance of surpassing former teammate Will Cherry this week.

And if Montana is to be successful against the Wildcats and then Idaho State, Jamar's contribution in both areas is crucial.

While with an upset overtime loss to Idaho State earlier this week cut Weber's league lead to just two games over Northern Colorado and left them standing three better than North Dakota and Northern Arizona, Weber looks like the team to beat even though they haven't been a great road team and four of their last six are away from Dee Events Center.

Randy Rahe teams have lost just 27 league games in his eight-year tenure in Ogden, just short of 80 percent far and away the league's top standard.

The Wildcats allow just 65 points an outing but Idaho State scored 70 in regulation Monday night and added eight overtime points to secure the upset.

But was the outcome an anomaly or was Weber just unable to solve the zone which I'm sure Montana will employ plenty of Thursday.

Weber has given up just 36 percent from long range during league play but surrendered nine of 18 treys to Idaho State.

Kyle Tresnak is a giant presence near the rim and Joel Bolomboy of course is the circuit's top boarder but I think the Griz bench figures paramount in this one.

Weber is thin there and played Monday night and will play in Bozeman on Saturday.

Montana's won the last four over the Wildcats in Missoula and with just a taste of good fortune, they'll make it five straight.

At stake on Thursday

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A look at the last time the Grizzlies faced Weber State pretty much paints a picture of what

areas must improve for Montana to prevail in Missoula Thursday night.

 

A win over the Wildcats not only presents a prime opportunity to elevate the Griz in the league

standings in the first of four home league games but also brings a myriad of tie breaker possibilities.

Northern Colorado swept the grizzlies, has a win over the Wildcats and more than likely will be

the No. 2 seed into the seven-team Big Sky Conference post-season.

 

But Sacramento State and now Idaho State also beat Weber and currently are tied with

Montana at 7-7 for the last spot into the tournament putting pressure on Montana to also hold

a victory over the potential league champ.

 

And Montana has both Sacramento State and Idaho State remaining on their schedule with an

opportunity to sweep either team since they prevailed in Pocatello and in Missoula over the

Hornets.

 

The last game in Ogden was indeed a dog fight with 15 lead changes and 11 ties before Weber

State prevailed 68-63.

 

The five points I suppose could be traced to the free throw line where the Wildcats had seven

more opportunities and scored that five additional points but that is deceiving given late fouling

by Montana to attempt to cut into the deficit.

After a 48 percent first half, the Grizzlies made just 10 of 27 second half field goals and were

but five of 14 from outside the arc where for the game they connected on nine shots at a 50

percent clip.

 

But Joel Bolomboy, who stands fifth in the country in rebounding, captured 19 rebounds,

including a half dozen on the offensive end, and Weber controlled the glass by eight.

Davion Berry probably is going to get his points and the 25 he scored the first time around is

just five better than his league average but redshirt freshman Kyndahl Hill scorched Montana

off the bench hitting all five of his field goal attempts.

 

A quintet of grizzlies, including a pair of starters, scored just two points while Mike Weisner

provided Montana's bench spark with 17.

 

Monday night ISU matched the Wildcats on the glass and while making eight less free throws in

four less attempts, shot 55 percent in regulation, hit three of eight in OT while the 45-minute

zone of Bill Evans held the Wildcats to 41.4 percent, about seven percent less than their league

average.

 

And ISU didn't allow an OT field goal in the last 2:20 while holding the Cats to just five points in the extra session.

 

But the key was guard Chris Hansen, who netted 27 to offset Berry's 20, and drained all four of his quartet of treys, connected on 8 of 16 overall and added seven consecutive free throws.

With a "W" Wayne Tinkle can move into a tie with Mike Montgomery for second all-time on the career list and while there's still time, Montana would sure like to notch this one in the left hand column.

On another side note, Utah State's Stew Morrill, the former Grizzly mentor, stands one win from No. 600, an amazing accomplishment.

A prime rivalry

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Except for the one season that Northern Colorado claimed the league title Big Sky Conference basketball has virtually been dominated by Montana and Weber State.

The Wildcats are headed to Missoula Thursday for a rematch of the Big Sky Conference tournament championship game in three of the last four seasons.

Now while those outcomes are so unlikely suffice it to say that Weber State won the regular season matchup in Ogden the last seven times the two teams have met but even in 2011 when UNC won the tournament it was the Grizzlies that ended Weber's season in the tournament's semi-final round.

Now granted it was a one-point miracle Griz win in Ogden in the tourney in 2010 when Anthony Johnson stole the show and just a three pointer in Missoula last year but a win is a win and let's face it when it counted most the Grizzlies have been up to the task.

Montana has won the last four regular season matchups in Missoula but Thursday's game is a different animal.

The Wildcats, who were picked by both the media and coaches to displace the Grizzlies at the top of the circuit this year, while not exactly dominate have a solid lead in the standings.

But curiously they lost by 19 at Northern Colorado and suffered a surprising overtime decision at Sacramento State. Then of course Weber State also dropped last night's Montana contest to Idaho State.

But the Wildcats are hitting just short of half of their field goal attempts, allow a league low 42 percent from the field, hold opponents to 64 points-per-game and are dominant on the boards.

Senior Davion Berry, an all-league and all-District performer last year, leads with better than a 20-point average accompanied by almost five rebounds and four assists.

Solid at all starting positions, the Wildcats are anchored in the post by 6-foot 10 Kyle Tresnak yet off the wing Joel Bolomboy amazingly is corralling better than a dozen rebounds an outing in league while contributing almost 10 points.

Along with point guard Jordan Richardson it might seem like they've been in Ogden forever since they both played as true frosh and Richardson is a game short of the league record in games started.

It's all about D especially since the Griz have been porous allowing better than 48 percent in league play.

Join us for the Hoop Show tonight at 6 p.m. from Dickie's Barbecue.

Not enough against North Dakota

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The Grizzlies dropped deep in the Big Sky standings after being swept in consecutive road games by teams they entered the week tied with in the listing.

Montana rebounded from a double-digit deficit to make it interesting but couldn't quite climb the hill in Grand Forks falling to North Dakota 74-69.

UND went on a rampage at the game's start and again after the intermission but the Grizzlies kept working back into the contest and with a trey attempt by Mario Dunn, who put up career scoring numbers, could have been in a one-possession game late in the going.

But it was his only miss of the afternoon and Montana could get no closer than the five points which ended up being the final margin.

Montana missed but 10 of 23 field goal attempts in the second half at the Sioux Center and beat an opponent on the boards for only the third time all season but 17 turnovers along with a dozen North Dakota steals - four each by Troy Huff and Jamal Webb - ultimately spelled doom to drop Montana to 7-7 in league play.

And with four of the final six games at home, it's a case of struggling for post-season seeding to avoid facing the second-place team in the opening round of the first-ever and probably last seven-team tournament.

But with tie-breaker implications still looming with league-leading Weber State coming to town Thursday night a victory over the Wildcats could loom large.

The aforementioned Dunn netted 17 and while just a 60 percent shooter connected on seven consecutive free throws and a near-career high seven rebounds - all on the defensive end - to join a trio of other Grizzlies in double figures.

But UND's leading scorer Troy Huff netted 18 on 15 shots and Jason Nash was an efficient nine of 13 from the field for 19 points to more than offset the Grizzly scorers.

Mike Weisner continued his strong bench play with a pair of treys and a dozen points but he was all there was off the Grizzly bench as four of the other five who played were scoreless and only Riley Bradshaw had a rebound.

Kareem Jamar led the way with 18 but uncharacteristically had six of Montana's 17 turnovers as league play moves into the home stretch.

A tough meeting in Greeley

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It was a game effort for the Grizzlies in Greeley, Colo, but while it took an overtime peiord Northern Colorado survived to win for the 12th straight time at home.

The Grizzlies battled back from an 11-point second half deficit after leading at the half by two and went toe-to-toe in an effort to claim sole possession of second place and avenge the UNC 11-point victory in Missoula.

The Grizzlies in fact had the opportunity to claim the W in regulation as they had the ball with 12.7 seconds to go but as time ran out a forced trey by Kareem Jamar was short and the two teams headed for OT tied at 77.

The Bears outscored the Grizzlies 20-10 in the first six-plus minutes but partially behind the long-range bombs of Mike Weisner Montana kept battling back in a game with double-figure lead changes and ties.

Kareem Jamar was limited to about eight minutes besieged with foul trouble in the first half but led Griz scorers with 21

Often times when a team uses that much energy to try to climb even, especially on the road, they can't quite climb the hill but Montana displayed a load of character to push Northern Colorado to the limit but late in the game and the OT they had no answer for Tate Unruh and several times the defense broke down allowing the Bears to get to the rim uncontested.

Northern Colorado was a torrid 66 percent from the field in the second half and dropped in four of five overtime opportunities while the Grizzlies hit just two of six in the extra period.

"We blew an opportunity here," said Wayne Tinkle. "Defensively we just didn't do a very good job."

Montana got good production at times inside and even though they were cold from long range in the first half, the trey kept bringing them back in the crunch even though they attempted 29 from outside the arc.

Keron DeShields, Jordan Gregory, Weisner and Mario Dunn Jr. all were in double figures with Keron dropping in 20 with aggressive drives to the bucket.

With the Cats winning at North Dakota they jump into a tie with Montana and UND with 7-6 marks.

It's an afternoon game Saturday in Grand Forks with the pre-game at 12:30 p.m.

Battle for second place

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It is a pivotal week for Griz hoop as the winter road beckons.

Montana challenges unbeatan-at-home Northern Colorado in Greeley tonight with at least a share of second place at stake.

In the meantime, Montana State travels to Grand Forks to face North Dakota also tied for the runner-up spot behind Weber State with just two games separating second and 10th in the league standings.

With a W Wayne Tinkle ties Mike Montgomery for second on the career wins list of course far back of arena namesake Jiggs Dahlberg who was at the helm twice and accumulated 222 victories.

In eight full seasons Monty, now the head coach at Cal, accumulated 154 wins in his eight seasons between 1979-1986 while Tinks is on the verge of securing the tying mark with seven regular season games left after tonight in his eight season career.

He also is tied for seventh most all-time in league play with former Gonzaga University mentor Hank Anderson.

But tonight's hill is steep but no hill for a climber you hear.

The Bears are 11-0 at Butler-Hancock Pavillion but have lost four straight on the road since being tied with Weber State for the league lead.

They fell at Portland State amazingly by 23, dropped a four-pointer in OT to Eastern Washington, fell by three to Idaho State and most recently were defeated by the Wildcats by 14.

Senior guard Tate Unruh is the trigger man for the Bears, scoring more than a 1,000 points and averaging a dozen a game while shooting 39 percent from long range.

But at power forward Derrick Barden averages 14 an outing and yanks down better than eight caroms while connecting on 56 percent of his field goal attempts.

Montana has won five of six over Northern Colorado before the Bears defeated the Griz in Missoula earlier this season and have enjoyed good fortune in Greeley winning the last three times there.

But the Bears prevailed by 11 in Missoula the last time around with deep bench play and outrebounding Montana 31-15.

But this is a far different Montana unit since that mid-January matchup and you can bet the Unruh-Barden duo will not net 40 points between them Thursday night.

An important outing.

Teams going in opposite directions

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Remember back in late January after the Grizzlies lost to Northern Colorado at Dahlberg Arena 84-73 to fall below .500 overall and a loser in four of six Big Sky Conference games?

It's been mostly roses since then and ironically the Bears are next on the agenda.

Montana hits the road on this Wednesday flying into Denver for the short car trip to Greeley where a Northern Colorado team has fallen on hard times since they were riding high upon defeating the Grizzlies in Missoula.

The Bears have lost four straight and fell from the league pinnacle, now occupied by just once-beaten Weber State, and into a tie for the league's third spot shared by the Grizzlies.

And while it could be described as teams headed in opposite directions keep in mind Northern Colorado has yet to lose in 11 games at the Hancock Center and with six of eight circuit games at home will figure a strong finish and a building of late-season momentum looms on their agenda.

And while they don't draw huge numbers in Greeley, it certainly can be a raucous and intimidating place for a visiting team.

The Griz have done an admirable job of moving in the right direction and with a trio of road wins made up for a pair of early league home losses and have set the table for a late-season run of their own to the seven-team tournament with the Wildcats very close to clinching the host spot and first-round bye.

And they have done so currently with a four game win streak since losing at Weber, and while they have played superbly at times, Montana has yet to put together a complete 40-minute outing.

Tinks seems to have settled on the starting lineup featuring freshman Mario Dunn Jr. at the point, Andy Martin anchoring the five slot, and junior sharpshooter Mike Weisner playing the best hoop of his Griz career coming early off the bench.

The recent added maturation of JC transfer Chris Kemp also brings a different element especially on the offensive glass which has been a Griz liability.

Montana has a quartet of home games book-ended by four road games before the league tournament in the middle of March.

Tiebreakers and seeding begins to be the talk of the day.

Quite an interesting league race

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Did I tell you this Big Sky Conference race to the tournament was going to be crazy?

While Weber State remains the prohibitive favorite to claim the regular season title and thus the right to host the seven-team post season, everything else is sure up in the air with all but Southern Utah in the chase.

The Griz face one of the stiffest road trips of the season, not just because of the competition with teams sharing their spot in the standings, but because of the sheer travel to Greeley, Colorado, and Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Weber State sports a three-game lead on the field and play six of their last eight in Ogden but nine of the 11 league teams are currently within two games of each other.

Northern Colorado looks to end a four-game slide Thursday when the Bears, winners of 12 straight at home, host the hot Grizzlies, winners of four straight.

UNC's home win streak stands as the 18th longest in the nation.

And it certainly is not too early to start thinking about tie-breakers and Montana has a great opportunity in facing the Bears and North Dakota, tied with the Grizzlies with 7-5 marks.

But the going won't be easy as road teams have broken through just 16 times in 65 league games to this point but Montana has one more road win (3) than any other league team.

And keep in mind the Bears claimed an 11-point decision over Montana in Missoula in mid-January.

The Bears have fallen out of the Mid-Major rankings but stand just ahead of the Grizzlies in RPI as the Griz jumped 31 spots to 193 well back of Weber State's 157.

For the Bears it's all about Tate Unruh and the trey. He stands 13th in circuit history with 211 makes while Derrick Barden is Mr. League rebound and has seven straight double-figure scoring games.

Barden has yanked down 17 caroms in two games this season and averages better than eight a contest.

And the Bears can light it up from the field, leading the league in field goal percentage at 48.8 percent, 14th best in the country.

Montana slightly outshoots UNC from deep and leads the league in that category.

Quite a key matchup.

Returning the favor against Portland State

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The Big Sky Conference is going to be an interesting run to the finish line.

It took an extra five minutes as the Grizzlies went to overtime again with Portland State but this time prevailed to move into a tie with the Vikings and North Dakota, a game out of second.

Montana dodged the bullet because with less than a second remaining the Vikings had a couple of attempts but when the ball finally rang the bucket bell it was just after the buzzer and thus an extra five minutes ensued in which the Grizzlies claimed victory.

And in the first extra period it was all about Keron DeShields who netted all but two of the 13 points to push Montana to a six-point verdict.

DeShields, who got an extended place on the pine in disfavor during regulation and played but 26 minutes put the Grizzlies on his shoulders in the OT and finished with 19 points to push Montana to 6-5, the league mark shared by the Vikings.

PSU jumped Montana at the forefront and moved to a 10-2 advantage less than three minutes into the game but while the score was tied nine times and the lead changed hands five times it was Montana that fought to a 22-20 advantage then an eight-point halftime advantage.

But the same Vikings would not go away and while the Griz led by six with some nine minutes to go Portland State tied it at 60 with three and half to go and it was anybody's game from there.

A DeShields lay-up with 16 seconds remaining gave PSU the last opportunity in regulation but a Kyle Richardson banker came after the buzzer and sent the game to OT for the second time between the two teams this season.

It was back and forth to the regulation's buzzer but Montana never trailed in the OT - it was tied at 71 - and waltzed away with the thriller to win for the fourth time in five games.

Kareem Jamar matched the 19 of Keron and passed Will Cherry on the all-time scoring list with his sights on Wayne Tinkle some four points away while Mike Weisner supplied the first-half offense with 15 points.

Eastern, a blowout victor over the Cats, is next tonight. Pre-game at 6:30 on your way to the Arena.

Signing Day and hoops

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Needless to say Wednesday certainly was an exciting day for Griz Nation as high schoolers made their football intentions and aspirations known.

The approach of Letter of Intent Signing Day always is an interesting time and not just because then it is officially revealed to what institution a player will display his wares.

But it also is a day of validation for the recruiting effort by devoted coaches who have been on the trail for months evaluating where a player or if a player fits into the school's plan and then whether they can convince him or her it is the right decision for all involved.

Many prospects choose to call a local journalist and make a verbal commitment, something the coaches are not allowed to talk about until it becomes official with the arrival of a signed document indicating the official commitment.

And in fact coaches prefer to have a prospect, especially one who is coveted by a host of other schools, to make that verbal commitment in advance even though it is not official or binding believing I suppose that a verbal might cause competing schools to back off.

But in most cases if a blue-chip athlete is that coveted competing schools continue to put on the pressure and quote reasons why an athlete should change their mind instead of signing a Letter of Intent to with the competing institution.

Tuesday was a sleepless night for coaches as they awaited the arrival of teenage signatures that later could determine their coaching future.

Grizzly hoop took a step forward not just in the Big Sky Conference standings with the hard-earned win over Montana State and amazingly at the halfway mark moved within three games of the league lead occupied by Weber State.

No other circuit team has three road wins like Montana but two home losses leave the Grizzlies tied with the Cats at 5-5 instead of even closer to the league lead.

It took an extra 15 minutes (triple OT) in Portland to decide the last matchup with the Vikings in a game where the Grizzlies seemed securely in control but eventually lost 90-87.

The Vikings haven't had good fortune in Missoula, losing 14 of 17 but have won six of seven with one of those wins a 28-point trouncing of then league leader Northern Colorado

Portland State has a game lead over the Grizzlies (6-4) and stand just two games back of the league lead tied with North Dakota and Northern Arizona.

It is always a marathon but we're getting close to the turn for home with every game and every possession seeming to have greater importance.

And protecting the home court at this point is a necessity.

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