Montana sports information director Dave Guffey tells me he can't remember a bigger or more-hyped Griz basketball game. And Guffey has been there for 35 years.
Either way, tomorrow night's "Battle for the Big Sky" between UM and Weber State should be wild. The teams are currently tied atop the league standings with identical 14-1 records, and the winner will take home the regular season title and the right to host the semifinals and championship of the postseason tournament. There's a lot on the line.
I put in an admittedly tardy request with Guffey on Monday for a seat at press row for this showdown, and I shouldn't have been surprised to learn there was little -- if any -- space available. To his credit, Guffey said he'd shoe-horn me between five NBA scouts, who will be in attendance to presumably get a good look at Weber State standout Damian Lillard.
Lillard, the nation's second-leading scorer and one of the more explosive players in Division I, is projected to be a first-round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
Those scouts will also get a taste of the Grizzlies' dynamic guard combo of Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar, who have helped spearhead an 11-game winning streak and one of the best conference records in school history. Those two will be called on to deliver again against perhaps the deepest team in the Big Sky in Weber State.
Win or lose tomorrow night, the Griz have undoubtedly put together one of their best seasons of all-time. Here are a couple notes, courtesy of Bob Meseroll at The Missoulian:
- With 22 wins, just eight Griz teams have ever won as many games and only five have won more.
- Montana’s current run of three straight 20-win seasons has been matched only twice before, when Mike Montgomery’s teams had four straight from 1982-86, and when Blaine Taylor’s clubs had three straight from 1994-97.
- The Grizzlies’ 14-1 Big Sky record is their best start to the league season ever. Jud Heathcote’s 1974-75 team went 13-1 in a 14-game regular season. Should the Griz beat Weber State in their Big Sky showdown Tuesday night in Missoula, the 15-1 league record would eclipse the best 16-game mark of 14-2 set by the 1991-92 team.
- Their 11-game winning streak is thought to be the fourth longest in school history behind three 13-game skeins. Jiggs Dahlberg’s 1941-42 team won 13 straight, as did Heathcote’s 73-74 team and Taylor’s 1993-94 Grizzlies, who started the season 13-0.
Beyond that, Montana hasn't hosted the league tournament since the 1999-2000 season. That's 12 years. Weber State, though, is looking to host the tourney for the fifth time in 13 seasons and for the fourth time in the past six. On Monday, Weber State earned a vote in the Top 25 coaches poll.
The Grizzly athletic department is asking fans to "Whiteout the Wildcats" on Tuesday night, so expect a sea of white at Dahlberg Arena. If you can't make the game, it'll be televised on Altitude.
Who's got predictions?