When Rocky Mountain College beat the University of Great Falls in a home playoff game in 2009, it was the Battlin’ Bears’ 16th consecutive men’s basketball victory over the Argos.
Since then, Rocky has gone on to capture its first NAIA national championship (2009), win its third Frontier Conference postseason tournament title (2013) and claim its first outright Frontier regular-season crown (2014) in 20 years.
Over the past five seasons, though, the Bears have also struggled mightily against UGF, putting together a 2-8 record.
The top-seeded Bears, 21-7, and sixth-seeded Argos, 18-12, will cross paths again at 7 p.m. on Friday in the Fortin Center — this time in a semifinal game of the Frontier tournament.
“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Rocky coach Bill Dreikosen said of the matchup. “Steve (Silsby) does a very good job (at UGF). They’ve got excellent players. You’ve got to go out and play your best basketball this time of year, and we look forward to the opportunity to do that.”
Rocky, ranked 11th nationally, beat UGF 94-80 in Billings on Jan. 4, but lost to the Argos 91-76 in Great Falls on Feb. 22.
The Bears, 11-2 at home this season, feature one of the highest scoring teams in the Frontier with their average of 89.7 points per game.
The Argos, 5-8 on the road, have the league’s top scorer in senior guard Marcel Towns, who is averaging 21.4 points per game. They also have one of the league’s stingiest defenses in giving up just 65.7 points per contest.
“They do a good job with their zone,” Dreikosen said. “They match up well. They try to keep you out of rhythm. They try to challenge a lot of different shots. You’ve just got to make excellent decisions and play aggressively.”
Rocky has won three Frontier tournament titles in the past (2002, 2003, 2013) — as a fourth, fifth or sixth seed. The Bears don’t want UGF to get any ideas as they shoot for their eighth appearance at the national championships.
“Nothing is going to be easy,” Dreikosen said of the postseason. “Nothing is going to be given to you. We know that.”
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Rocky’s first-year assistant coach James Bulluck was a starting forward on the Bears’ 2008-09 national championship team.
The 26-year-old said he definitely sees some championship qualities in this year’s squad.
“This team has a lot of heart,” Bulluck said. “They’ve been through a lot of things this season. For them to still come out on top, win the conference outright during the regular season, they just showed they won’t give up.
“It was a rough game in Great Falls, but they’re ready to go. These boys want to play. They’re hungry and I think (UGF) is going to see that when we play them on Friday.”
Bulluck also likes the fast pace the Bears play at.
“The way the boys can get the ball up and down the floor, if we can get into some of the transition, I mean, we’re tough to beat,” Bulluck said.
“We have a lot of athleticism, plus we’ve got some scorers on the team. We’ve got some people that can put the ball in the hole. We’re an exciting team to watch when we can do that.”
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Rocky has a couple of players on its roster — freshmen Taylor Longo and Derek Graves — who were born in 1994.
That’s also the year when the Bears won their last conference title outright.
Rocky had a first-year coach that season in Garry Matlock, and a senior all-conference forward named Dreikosen.
The Bears won 17 games that season and advanced to the national tournament in Tulsa, Okla.
“I think we knew how to win,” Dreikosen said. “Nobody cared who got the credit. We just helped each other out. We weren’t the most athletic. We certainly weren’t an all-airport team, when you’ve got me playing the four at 6-3 ...
“I thought we were really tough mentally and really played together. I think those were our strengths that year.”
Matlock, who is now an assistant coach at the College of Idaho, “was a great leader. He found a way to glue us all together and get us all in the right seats,” Dreikosen said.
Included on Rocky’s roster were Calvin Tyson, Kenny Big Back, Reece Gliko, Lance Heggem, Martin Lee, Trevan Walker and Tracy Davis.
“It was really a fun team, and I have some of my strongest friendships with some of those guys that were on that team,” Dreikosen said. “It was a special experience for us.”
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Rocky is on the verge of winning its fifth George Bandy Memorial All-Sports Award in 31 years.
The honor is given out by the Frontier after each school year to the conference’s most successful athletic program.
The Bears, fresh off their men’s basketball championship, are leading this year’s race with 80 points. Four-time reigning champion Carroll College is second at 66.5 points.
Men’s and women’s golf are the only remaining sports — and Rocky tops the standings in both heading into the spring.
The Bears last won the Bandy Award in 2008-09. Rocky also claimed the prize in 1997-98, 1998-99 and 2003-04.
Carroll is the all-time leader with 11 Bandy wins.