MISSOULA — Kareem Jamar has a wish for his final home game in a Montana Grizzly uniform.
“We need the best crowd we’ve had all year,” Jamar said, referring to Monday night’s game against rival Montana State, which tips off at 7 p.m. at Dahlberg Areana — and will not be televised. “I know it’s kind of snowy out.
“I want to thank the fans that came out to support us (Saturday). We need everybody to come out Monday.”
His coach shares that desire.
“I think it would be great,” Griz coach Wayne Tinkle said. “We play at a different level when we have our crowd into it and in numbers. I know the weather hasn’t been great. It seems like our last few home games have been the worst nights of the winter, but the people who have been showing up have been awesome.
“As big a game as it is and the last game of the season here, then throw in the fact that it’s our rival — and I know it’s tough on a Monday night — but you would hope the faithful would come out in droves and really push this team toward the finish line.”
And it’s going to be an all-out sprint to the finish. At 10-7 in Big Sky games, the Griz are just a half-game behind North Dakota for second place in the standings; at 9-8, the Cats are just a game behind the Griz. But just two games separate North Dakota from the next seven teams in the standings and only the top seven get postseason invitations. Both the Griz and the Cats face a season-ending road trip to Sacramento State and Northern Arizona later this week, two teams that are right in the thick of the postseason race.
“We’re not going to look past (Monday),” Tinkle said. “The fact that it’s a home game and we’ve already dropped a couple at home makes it valuable. We can’t have any more hiccups at home. If we take care of business, we can move on to what’s going to happen on the road the last weekend.”
The Griz have won seven straight against the Cats, although rarely have the games been decided until the final minutes. Montana’s last three wins over the Cats have come by a total of 12 points, with one of those — last season’s game in Missoula — going to overtime.
“When it’s Griz versus Cats, it’s not about your record, it’s mano-a-mano,” said Jamar. “They’re going to come ready to play, so we have to make sure we’re ready.”
The Griz beat the Cats 70-66 in Bozeman in early February. Jamar had 20 points and 10 rebounds in that game and the Griz held the Cats to 40 percent shooting. But the Cats lost starting guard Michael Dison to a thumb injury in that game, thrusting senior Antonio Biglow into the starting backcourt along with sophomore Marcus Colbert.
And MSU coach Brad Huse now starts sophomore Terrell Brown at forward, joining seniors Flavien Davis and Paul Egwuonwu in the frontcourt. Dison has since returned from the injury and comes off the bench.
“I think they’re playing better,” Tinkle said. “Brad has tweaked some things with their lineup. I think he’s probably the most comfortable he’s been all year with his rotation and top seven or eight guys. They’ve had some hiccups along the way, but in their last six or seven games it seems like they’ve gotten in a rhythm.”
Add another Bobcat into the mix: freshman guard Stephan Holm, a potential X-factor. Holm scored 22 points on 5-for-7 shooting from 3-point range in the Cats’ overtime win over Southern Utah in their last outing.
“He’s a great shooter,” Tinkle said. “And he had two big and-ones, getting to the rim in transition against Southern Utah the other night. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. We’re going to have to be keyed into him both behind the arc and then out in transition.”
Davis has always been a tough matchup for the Griz — and most teams in the league. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound power forward leads the Cats in scoring at 12.6 points a game. Davis scored 22 in the loss to the Griz in Bozeman; no one else had more than seven.
“The thing with him is that he’s good, he’s going to get his, you can’t really let him have a huge game,” Tinkle said. “Our deal has been let’s make sure nobody else goes off and make him work for everything he gets.”
The Cats switched to a zone defense in the second half of the game in Bozeman earlier this season, which allowed MSU to cut a double-digit deficit to one point late in the game.
“Offensively, we have to move and spread them out in man or zone,” Tinkle said. “We know they’ll play 2-3, a box-and-one, a triangle-and-two; we’ve been working on that stuff all week. The main thing is we have to be the aggressor and attack, not settle.”
The Griz have won seven of their last nine games to climb back toward the top of the standings. One of those losses was in overtime and the other was by five points.
“We had a couple of hiccups on the road at Northern Colorado and North Dakota,” Tinkle said. “We really felt like we should have at least split that. Other than that, we’ve been playing better. Weber was our most complete game. Last night, we have to recognize the fact that Southern Utah had tough travel — they stayed in Bozeman and bused over (Saturday) — so that outcome was probably a little deceptive. But still it was the first glimmer we’ve seen of some killer instinct. We are doing some things that we hadn’t done to this point.”
NOTES: This is the 289th meeting of the Montana rivals. MSU leads the series 147-141. ... Jamar, with 1,620 points, needs 44 more to pass Kevin Criswell (2003-06) and move into fourth place on Montana’s career scoring list. ... Jamar needs just three assists to pass Will Cherry, who is fourth on UM’s career list with 397. ... Montana is ranked fourth in the country in fewest turnovers.