Griz Win Big Sky Regular Season Title for Second Year in a Row


The University of Montana wrapped up its second Big Sky Conference regular-season championship in a row with a hard-fought 63-50 come-from-behind victory over a scrappy Northern Arizona Lumberjack team Saturday evening.

The Griz boosted their league record to 19-1 – those 19 wins setting a new league standard, and Montana improved to 23-6 overall.  Montana is in the midst of its fourth 20-win season in a row, and has won 91 games so far over the past four seasons.

Montana, which has played four league games in the last eight days, has won 19 of its last 21 games this season.  The Grizzlies have now won 25 straight regular-season Big Sky games over the last three seasons.

Montana will now host the Big Sky’s post-season tournament, Thursday through Saturday, March 14-15-16.  UM’s next game will be Friday, March 15, when the No. 1-seeded Grizzlies will play the lowest remaining seed from the semi-finals in an 8:00 p.m. contest.

The Jacks, who are now 8-12 and 11-20, and were fighting for their post-season tournament lives, stayed close to the Griz until the final minutes on the game.

But, similar to their 63-52 home win over Sacramento State this past Thursday, the Grizzlies put together a late scoring surge and the season-high Dahlberg Arena crowd of 6,056 got to watch seventh-year head coach Wayne Tinkle, his staff and players, cut down the nets for the second consecutive season (Montana was 25-7 overall and 15-1 in league en route to the BSC’s regular-season crown a year ago). 

It was a back-and-forth contest, which featured 10 lead changes and seven ties.  The 10th lead change was thanks to a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Jordan Gregory, which gave the Griz a 49-46 advantage with 6:30 remaining in the game, and the home team led the rest of the way.

NAU did cut Montana’s lead to just one point at 49-48 on a jumper by junior forward Max Jacobsen with 6:07 left to play, but right after that, Gregory connected on a jumper and UM regained a three-point edge at 51-48 at the 6:07 mark.  After Gregory’s jumper the Grizzlies out-scored the Lumberjacks 10-1 over the next five minutes and they took a commanding 61-49 lead on a dunk by junior guard-forward Kareem Jamar with 1:12 remaining in the contest.

The Grizzlies struggled a bit in the early going, and the Jacks took their biggest lead of the game of 11 points (26-15) on a jumper by Jacobsen with 5:03 left until intermission.  NAU led 32-24 at halftime.

The teams traded the lead a total of four times in the second half, and the last time NAU had the upper-hand was 44-43 on a banked 3-pointer by freshman guard Blake Hamilton with 9:19 left in the game.

It was “Senior Night” for the Grizzlies, and marked the return of senior point guard Will Cherry who had missed UM’s last three games because of an injury.  Cherry scored a team-high 14 points and played 27 minutes.  Unfortunately, UM’s other senior, starting forward Mathias Ward, is out for the season after undergoing surgery this past Wednesday (March 6).

Also in double figures for the Griz were junior forward Spencer Coleman with 12 points, while  sophomore forward Mike Weisner tallied 11 points and made 3-of-4 treys.  Jamar scored 9 points and Gregory added 7.  Coleman led UM with 7 rebounds, while Gregory had 5.  Jamar dished out a game-high 6 assists.

Montana was 21-of-43 (48.8%) from the floor, made 6-of-15 (40.0%) 3-pointers, and were 15-of-20 free throw attempts.  UM held NAU to 25.0% shooting (6-of-21) from the floor in the second half, while the Griz made 12-of-22 (54.5%) shots in the second stanza.

NAU was 20-of-49 (40.8%) from the field, 4-of-13 (30.8%) on treys, and 6-of-12 from the stripe.  The Griz had a 30 to 26 edge in rebounds.

NAU, which earned the No. 7 seed in the upcoming league tournament, was led by Jacobsen with a game-high 17 points and a team-best 7 boards, while Rogers chipped in 12 points.


First Round – March 14: 3 p.m. – No. 7 Northern Arizona (11-20) vs. No. 2 Weber State (24-5); 5:30 p.m. – No. 6 Southern Utah (11-19) vs. No. 3 North Dakota (15-15);  8 p.m. – No. 5 Northern Colorado (12-17) vs. No. 4 Montana State (13-16).

Semifinals – March 15: 5:30 p.m  – Highest Remaining Seed vs. the 2nd Highest Remaining Seed 8 p.m. –  Lowest Remaining Seed at No. 1 Montana (23-6).

Final – March 16: 7 p.m. Mountain – Semifinal Winners (ESPNU).