By CHRIS WALTERSKIRCHEN
This year’s final day of the Big Sky men’s basketball conference schedule will not have quite the drama of last season’s finale as Montana, Sacramento State and Eastern Washington all had a chance to win the regular season title and the host role for the following week’s conference tournament. For one thing the site of the 2016 tournament was set last spring and if weber State wins Thursday night the regular season title will be theirs.
A sweep this week by either or both UM basketball teams would guarantee another 20-win season. The Lady Griz would have put together four consecutive 20-win seasons and the men would have reached 20 wins for the seventh time in the last 11 seasons. Also, a pair of wins by the Griz, and Travis Decuire will be the first Griz coach to win at least 20 games in each of his first two seasons .
Any team that faces the Griz will have to play strong 3-point defense as the Griz have four of the top 10 long range shooters in the Big Sky. Walter Wright, Brandon Gfeller, Bobby Morehead and Jack Lopez are among the league leaders when it comes to 3-point accuracy.
Thursday night’s match-up with North Dakota promises to be a great game as both teams are ranked in the top four in the Big Sky Conference in scoring, scoring defense, field goal percentage and defending shots from the floor.
North Dakota features two of the top players in the Big Sky in guard Quentin Hooker and forward Drick Bernstein. Hooker, a Kinisiology Major, is among the league leaders in scoring field goal percentage, 3-points percentage and steals. Drick Bernstien is among the league leaders in rebounds and blocked shots. Bernstein began his career at Denver University and then transfered to another hockey power, North Dakota. Drick comes from his first name Roderick and he is the son of former NFL running back Rod Bernstein who was famous for his tight end reverses. He is one of the few players to ever throw catch and run for a TD in the same game.
Martin Breunig should be the league MVP with stats among the leaders in several categories. Breunig is moving up the Griz career scoring list and currently is only behind players who played 4 seasons at Montana. Breunig has played just two season in Missoula.
The Lady Griz are going to get plenty of frequent flyer miles in the next 10 days with flights to Grand Forks, Greeley and then Reno for the league tournament.
The Lady Griz desperately need to remain in the top 4 in the Big Sky to avoid playing in Reno on Monday March 7th.
Interestingly enough the Lady Griz two opponents this week have some recent history with UM as North Dakota and Northern Clorado have faced UM the past 3 seasons in the conference title game.
A somewhat ironic tidbit: It was 42 years ago Saturday that Robin Selvig played his final game for the Griz–a play-off game agianst Idaho State for the league title and a trip to the NCAA tournament. Selvig may have lost that 1974 game but he has had 27 more opportunities to reach the NCAA tournament.
A historic note regarding the MSU Bobcats. The Cats will be playing Tuesday March 8th in the Big Sky tournament in Reno, normally that would hardly be noteworthy but this time it is. On March 8, 1986 on the court at the Lawler Events Center in Reno the Bobcats beat Montana in the Big Sky torunament title game. It was the fifth time in nine seasons that the Griz had lost in the tournament title game. Those ’86 Bobcats would earn the last seed in the field of 64 facing the number one overall seed St Johns and gave the Red Storm all they could handle.
Chris Walterskirchen has been an observer of Montana sports for nearly half a century. A Kalispell native, Chris has worked in various capacities for professional and college sports organization of at various times: ranging from announcing and statistical work to the concessions and even a stint as a costumed mascot.
Chris has academic degrees in communications and elementary education. His style of sports trivia involves more than just who won and who lost, but also focuses on the obscure or human side of sports. In this blog you will learn things like the Grizzly football team has won 210 games over the 19 seasons since they have had Monte as their mascot or that UNLV is the only school that both the Griz and Lady Griz have both faced in the NCAA basketball tournament
When not following sports Chris enjoys taking care of animals of all kinds (a peacock rescue?) and reading to pre-schoolers.