Missoula and Western Montana Hoop Action is Heating Up

By JIM O’DAY

“Make It Missoula” as your destination the next few weeks for some great basketball action – both at the collegiate and high school levels.

For the first time in many years, both the Montana Grizzlies and the Lady Griz stand alone atop the standings of the Big Sky Conference late in the year.  Both face crucial battles in the coming two weeks and are in contention to host the league tournaments on March 14-16. The winner of the regular season titles will host the three-day tournament.

On Thursday, Feb. 14, the UM men’s basketball team (18-4) faces perhaps its stiffest challenge of the conference schedule when it heads into the Dee Events Center in Ogden, Utah, to take on the Weber Wildcats (17-5). Montana won the first meeting on Jan. 26 in Missoula, 76-74, and currently has a 2-game lead over the Weber ball club in the league standings.  Thanks to an impressive 78-58 victory over North Dakota last Saturday, UM is 14-0 in Big Sky play – breaking the conference record for most consecutive league victories with the Grizzlies’ 25th in a row.  After Thursday, the Griz head north to Pocatello, Idaho, to take on the Idaho State Bengals on Saturday night.  Montana’s final game in February is the ESPN Bracketbusters game at Dayton on Saturday, Feb. 23.  The Flyers are currently 13-10 and in 13th place in the Atlantic 10 standings with a 3-6 record.

The Lady Griz, meanwhile, have a slim half-game lead over hard-charging Northern Colorado heading into three straight home games in Dahlberg Arena.  Montana is 17-6 on the year, and 11-3 in Big Sky Conference action.  Northern Colorado is 13-9/10-3, followed by Eastern Washington at 13-10/9-5; Idaho State at 13-9/8-5 (Saturday night’s opponent); and Sacramento State and Montana State with identical 14-9/8-6 records.  UM’s final game of February is home on Feb. 28 vs. Southern Utah.

It’s been an outstanding year for both Wayne Tinkle’s men’s team and Robin Selvig’s women’s squad. If you get a chance, make it a point to check out the Griz and Lady Griz in the coming weeks.  Both are playing an extremely exciting brand of basketball in 2012-13.

Although we hear a lot about the successes of the Griz and Lady Griz, local high school teams are also having outstanding seasons as they are in the stretch run of their conference seasons.

In Class AA, the Missoula Hellgate boys and the Missoula Sentinel girls are front-runners in their respective divisions of Western AA. Hellgate under Jeff Hays is 14-2/7-1 in league play, and ranked #3 in the state.  Karen Deden’s Missoula Sentinel women’s team is 15-1/7-1 and ranked #1 – and is tied atop the Western AA standings with Helena Capital.  In the boys’ division, Missoula Big Sky is in sixth place in league standings at 2-6 (7-0 overall), while Missoula Sentinel is 0-8/2-14.  For the girls, Big Sky is sixth at 2-6/6-10 and Missoula Hellgate seventh at 0-8/1-15.

In Class A boys, the top local contender is No. 2 ranked Stevensville at 14-3, while Florence is expected to move into a top position via a convincing 55-38 triumph over No. 1 ranked Bigfork last weekend. Missoula Loyola is ranked #8 at 12-5.

In other girls’ results, Hamilton (14-3) and Frenchtown (13-4) are ranked second and third in the latest poll, behind #1 Columbia Falls (15-3).  In Class B, Florence is the 10th ranked team at 12-5, while Seeley Swan is #3 (18-1) in Class C girls.

Tournament action begins this week in some divisions, while the others are finishing up their conference schedules the next few weeks.  If you get a chance, it might be worth checking out any of the local teams. They’re extremely exciting to follow. I know all of these fine kids would appreciate your support.

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Do you have questions for Jim?  Use this Contact Us form and we’ll forward your questions to him for possible inclusion in future blogs.  Like this blog?  Chances are you’ll like these other Jim O’Day blogs:  What the Financial Numbers mean for UM/MSU Athletics.  Hiring/Retaining College Coaches is Becoming ToughFormer UM Coaches/Missoula Stars Making it Big in College FootballWhy I chose to Make It Missoula, The Ups & Downs of Being a Griz Fan, Once a Griz, Always a Griz.

Jim O’Day was Director of Athletics at the University of Montana from 2005-2012. Prior to that, he served as the Assistant Director of the Grizzly Athletic Association and later as the Director of Development  for Intercollegiate Athletics atUM.

Prior to returning to his alma mater in 1998, O’Day was the owner and publisher of the family-owned Western Breeze newspaper in Cut Bank, Montana.

Jim currently works for The Farran Group, a real estate development/ investment firm based in Missoula, MT.  In addition, Jim serves as a consultant for Epio Solutions out of Seattle, a sports based agency primarily focused on monitoring social media platforms for various colleges and universities.

Jim and his wife Kathy have three sons: Chris, Kevin and Brian.  Chris and Kevin are graduates of The University of Montana, while Brian is currently a senior at UM.