With a Big Sky championship rematch against Weber State looming on New Year’s Eve, Montana’s first three-game win streak of the year couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Griz now turn their attention to the preseason favorite Wildcats, who make their first trip to Missoula since Feb. 21 of 2015 on Saturday.
THE GAME: Montana (6-8, 1-0 BSC) rings in 2017 with a 2 p.m. tussle with perennial rivals Weber State (6-6, 1-0 BSC) on Dec. 31 in the second league game of the year for both teams.
Missoula’s New Year revelers can start the celebrations early, gaining free entry to the game by showing their First Night Missoula button at the gate before heading out for an evening of arts and entertainment on the town as the clock counts down to midnight.
The Griz enter the game winners of three-straight looking to make an early-season statement in the race for a second Big Sky regular season championship in three years.
The Wildcats cross the continental divide headed for Dahlberg Arena after picking up an 87-75 win at Montana State on Thursday to open conference play. Weber is also on a hot streak, winning their last four after suffering a four-game losing streak in nonconference action.
IMPLICATIONS: Even though the league season is only one game old, the Montana/Weber State matchup provides plenty of championship implications, considering the Big Sky regular season title has been decided between the two schools in four of the last five seasons.
Both teams currently sit atop the Big Sky standings at 1-0 along with Northern Colorado, who is ineligible to participate in the league’s postseason tourney, and Portland State, perhaps the biggest surprise of the conference thus far.
But make no mistake, the winner of the Griz/Wildcat game will likely be considered one of the top contenders for the conference crown until the two meet again in the final week of league play on March 2.
WATCH/LISTEN: Griz fans around the globe can tune in to watch this classic Big Sky rivalry game live and free of charge via web stream at WatchBigSky.com.
The “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran brings you the statewide call on the Montana Grizzlies Radio Network, which can also be heard online at GoGriz.com. Live stats are also available at GoGriz.com, and a live twitter feed can be found @UMGRIZZLIES_BB.
SERIES HISTORY: Saturday’s matchup between the two schools is the 125th meeting in series history, with Weber holding a 69-55 advantage over the Griz. The series dates back to the 1962-63 season, the founding year of the Big Sky Conference. The two teams split their games that year, with the Griz falling 89-79 in Ogden, and the Griz claiming victory in Missoula, 84-75.
Montana has won nine in a row at Dahlberg Arena, dating back to the 2009-10 season, but Weber has won the last two meetings between the two.
LAST MATCHUP: In the 2015-16 Big Sky title game in Reno, the No. 2 seed Griz battled back from a 14-point first-half deficit, but missed a chance in the dying seconds to knock off No. 1 WSU, as the Wildcats laid claim to the Big Sky’s automatic bid to the NCAA tourney in a 62-59 nail biter.
GRIZ TRACKS: Montana may have started the season slowly, but the month of December has been very good to the Grizzlies. After going 1-6 in November in the throws on a cross-continent road trip, the Griz have rattled off three-straight wins and sit at 5-2 in December with one game left before the calendar turns to January.
Even though Montana only shot eight free throws against ISU, the Griz maintain one of the best percentages from the line in the nation at just over 76 percent, good enough to rank No. 22 in the country.
Walter Wright went 2-for-2 from the line against the Bengals after a flagrant foul, and now has the nation’s twelfth-best percentage from the line out of 250 ranked players, making over 92 percent of his shots.
Fabijan Krslovic bounced back in the boards column in a big way versus Idaho State. His 12-rebound game was the fifth time this season the junior forward from Australia has pulled down double-digit boards, and the first time in five games he’s hauled in more than 10.
With Thursday’s win over Idaho State, the Griz have now won eight-straight conference-opener games, dating back to the ’09-’10 season.
WILDCAT TRACKS: Preseason All-Big Sky guard Jeremy Senglin etched his name in the WSU history books on Thursday, sinking eight 3-pointers against Montana State to become the ‘Cats career leader in threes.
As a team, Weber State knocked down 17 three-pointers in the win over MSU, tied for the third-most in a game in school history and is the most ever for the Wildcats against a Division I opponent. WSU finished 17-of-31 from three-point range.
Weber State leads the Big Sky and is 13th in the nation in three-point field goal percentage at 41.2 percent.
ON DECK: The Grizzlies’ league slate doesn’t get any easier next week, as UM opens 2017 at Idaho on Jan. 5, followed by a showdown with Eastern Washington in Cheney on Jan. 7.
Montana then returns home for a two-game stint against Northern Colorado on Jan. 12 and North Dakota on Jan. 14 at Dahlberg Arena. Ticket information can be found at GrizTix.com or by calling 1-888-MONTANA.