By now it seems like a foregone conclusion.
Each time the Montana Grizzlies step on the basketball court against a Big Sky Conference opponent, they’re expected to win. Anymore, it would be surprising if they didn’t.
With two more home victories last week over Northern Colorado and North Dakota, the Griz (18-4, 14-0 Big Sky) turned their winning streak from staggering to record-breaking.
Montana has now won 25 consecutive regular-season games against Big Sky foes, which eclipsed the previous league record of 24 set by Weber State from 1968-69 to 1969-70. Including last year’s league tournament, the Grizzlies have now won 27 straight against Big Sky teams.
A 78-58 trouncing of UND on Saturday was the clincher. It was also Montana’s school-record-tying 14th consecutive win this season, which is the second-longest active winning streak in Division I behind Akron’s 15 in a row.
It also stood as UM’s 24th straight Big Sky home win dating back to February 2010, another league record.
During their 27-game streak, the Grizzlies’ margin of victory has been nearly 13 points.
Griz guards Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar continue to serve as catalysts.
Cherry had 13 points and five assists against UNC, and scored 16 points against North Dakota. One of the best defensive players in mid-major college basketball, Cherry had a combined eight steals in those two games, moving into third place on the Big Sky’s all-time list.
Since returning from a foot injury in mid-December, Cherry has scored in double figures in five straight games and in 10 of his
Jamar, meanwhile, had 18 points against UNC and 14 more against UND. Jamar also averaged 8.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists in the two wins.
As a result, Jamar was selected as the Big Sky’s player of the week Monday.
With 27 straight conference victories, Montana is on the verge of matching a similar streak forged by mid-major contemporary Gonzaga from 2005-07.
In that span, the Zags — one of the most revered programs in the west (if not the nation) — won 30 in a row against West Coast Conference teams.
Gonzaga is again ranked No. 1 in this week’s CollegeInsider.com mid-major poll. Montana moved up two spots to No. 12.
Showdown in Ogden
If they’re to stretch their league winning streak to 28, the Grizzlies must win Thursday night on the road at rival Weber State. Not an easy task.
The Wildcats (17-5, 12-2 Big Sky) have won 14 straight conference games on their home floor at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, Utah, including an 80-64 victory over Montana last season on Jan. 14, 2012.
That game, mind you, was the Grizzlies’ last loss versus a Big Sky team.
Montana hasn’t won at Weber State in the regular season since a 58-55 triumph there on Feb. 12, 2004.
Eastern Washington never met a 3-point shot it didn’t like.
So it should come as no surprise that the Eagles came roaring back to beat Northern Arizona 77-74 in overtime last week, mainly by launching 43 3-pointers, which tied their own Big Sky Conference record.
Guard Parker Kelly knocked down five 3s, while forward Thomas Reuter hit four. In all, EWU made 14 of its 43 3-point attempts — a modest percentage of .325 — while erasing an 18-point deficit that snapped a 13-game road losing streak.
Entering this week’s games, the Eagles lead the Big Sky Conference and are ranked 12th in Division I with 8.7 3-point makes per game.
The Eagles previously set the league record with 43 3-point attempts in a game in 2010.
Eastern Washington’s women continue to be led by sophomore guard Lexie Nelson.
A former standout at Butte High, Nelson is familiar to basketball fans statewide. Nelson transferred to EWU from Montana following the 2010-11 season, but had to sit out last year due to NCAA transfer rules.
Now in her first season in Cheney, Wash., Nelson leads the Eagles and ranks fourth in the Big Sky in scoring at 13.7 points per game.
At 13-10 overall and 9-5 in the league, EWU sits solidly in third place in the Big Sky Standings.
At Butte High, Nelson became the school’s all-time leading scorer, and led the Bulldogs to back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Class AA state tournament in 2009 and ’10.
Around the league
UNC’s Lauren Oosdyke won the Big Sky women’s player of the week award Monday. Oosdyke averaged 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in two wins, including a 54-41 victory over Montana, which pulled the Bears into a virtual tie with the Lady Griz atop the league standings. … NAU G Stallon Saldivar had a triple-double in the OT loss to Eastern Washington. Saldivar had 13 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists to become just the third Big Sky player to record a triple-double since 2000. … The RPI numbers for the Big Sky are mediocre at best. Montana’s RPI ranking is 118th for the second straight week, while Weber State improved seven spots to 129.
North Dakota jumped 31 spots to 248. The Big Sky remained ranked 28th in RPI among Division I conferences.