By CHRIS WALTERSKIRCHEN
The Montana Lady Griz open Big Sky Touranament play facing Northern Arizona who struggled to a last place finish in 2016. It has been nine years since the Lady Griz have faced NAU in the tournament, when the Lumberjacks upset Montana to adavance to the Title game. The Lumberjacks may have finished at the bottom of the League standings but they feature one of the best freshman in the league in Alyssa Rader–a true freshman who ranks among the top 10 in the Big Sky in scoring, rebounding, field goal, and free throw percentage.
A win on Monday would put the Lady Griz into a rematch with the fighting Hawks of North Dakota who has won 5 of their last 6 meetings with Montana including a sweep in the teams’ regular season meeting this season.
For the Bobcats of Bozeman, winning the school’s first undisputed Big Sky Title was worth savoring. The Bobcat’s last conference title and top seed in the league tournament was in 1993 when MSU and UM tied at the top and the Big Sky method of breaking such ties was the flip of a coin with a heads call giving MSU the top seed and a home court advantage. Interestingly in 1994 it again involved a coin toss–this time it bounced UM’s way with a win against Boise State. The Bobcats have reached the tournament title game 6 times since 1993 and have lost six times in their attempt for a trip to the NCAA tournament.
For the 11th time in the last 12 years the Grizzly are in the top 4 seeds at the conference tournament. A strange but true tidbit for the Grizzlies in the Big Sky tournament: 23 of the last 27 seasons at tournament time the Griz have either won the tournament or lost out in their first game of tournament play.
If the MSU Bobcats win Tuesday, setting them up for a rematch with the Griz, it will be the seventh time the teams have met in the post-season after one of them has swept the regular season series. In five of their six meetings under these circumstances the team that was shut out in the regular season claimed a win in the conference tournament. Montana and MSU last met in the Big Sky post-season in 2009 when the Griz easily beat the Cats in the regualr season only to fall 56-53 in the tournament quarterfinals.
The Griz have twice won the Big Sky tournament as the second seed–in 1997 and 2006. Oddly both of those tournaments were played in Flagstaff Arizona.
As for who the Big Sky Champs might face in the first round of the NCAA tournament, in the last five seasons the Big Sky Champs have faced an opponent from five different conferences. Four times over the last 14 seasons the Big Sky Champ has faced a Pac-12 opponent.
The late Nancy Reagan was not noted as much of a sports fan and as a matter of fact the only sports-related incident involving the former First Lady had her at odds with a coach. In 1987 Mrs. Reagan was heading an anti-drug campaign which featured the slogan “Just Say No”. At the same time, Pat Summit and her Tennessee Lady Vols had a similar but very different slogan– “Just Say Yes”. The First Lady took offense at what she viewed as disrespect for her anti-drug campaign and went as far as boycotting Tennessee from a White House vist after the Lady Vols won their first National title. However 20 some years later, Summit and Mrs. Reagan appeared together in ads promoting research on Alheimers Disease which Summit had contracted and led to her early retirement from basketball.
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.