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Members of the University of Montana men's basketball coaching staff, wearing maroon sneakers as opposed to their usual dress shoes, meet during a timeout Saturday night during the Grizzlies' game against Northern Arizona. The coaches were wearing the sneakers as part of a National Association of College Basketball Coaches effort to demonstrate their support for the American Cancer Society.

KURT WILSON, Missoulian

MISSOULA — Several coaching staffs in the Big Sky Conference, including Montana's, participated in the Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers Awareness Week this past week.

Coaches across the country wore sneakers with their suits in order to raise awareness of cancer, help save lives by fundraising and encourage education about cancer prevention. Coaches vs. Cancer is a collaborative effort between the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the American Cancer Society.

Montana’s coaching staff wore maroon Nike sneakers during Saturday’s 82-64 win over Northern Arizona at Dahlberg Arena.

“Any time you’re fighting something or someone that takes lives, it’s always important to me,” Griz head coach Travis DeCuire said. He hasn’t had any immediate family members impacted by cancer, but a cousin’s dad died from cancer three years ago.

“Fighting cancer is important to our community, every community because it takes people away from us way too early,” he continued. “Any opportunity to play a role in the fight, I’m all in for it. If awareness through the game of basketball is a productive way to fight the fight, I don’t know that there’s a better way other than if you can write a check for $1 million, and I don’t have that. I think awareness is huge in any cause, especially this one.”

Southern Utah’s staff wore sneakers for Thursday’s game at Montana and Saturday’s game at Montana State. The Thunderbirds’ staff also wore golden shoelaces in the “Lace up for Lacey” movement in memory of Lacey Holsworth, an 8-year-old Michigan State basketball fan who died of cancer in 2014.

Weber State and Idaho State’s staffs both participated by wearing sneakers to their game against each other on Saturday.

Northern Colorado will be participating in the Coaches vs. Cancer 3-Point Challenge throughout February. During the month-long event, fans are encouraged to pledge donations to fight cancer for every 3-pointer their team makes.

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Player of the Week: Eastern Washington’s Bogdan Bliznyuk

Eagles senior guard/forward Bogdan Bliznyuk tallied 54 points on 65.7 percent shooting (23 of 35), and averaged 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in two games this past week. Eastern Washington (11-11, 6-3) won both games, against North Dakota and Northern Colorado, and is in a third-place tie with Idaho (14-7, 6-3).

Bliznyuk became the program’s all-time leading scorer on Thursday and surpassed Montana State’s Tom Domako (1984-88) to move into 10th on the Big Sky career scoring list.

He’s the first repeat winner this season, collecting his first weekly honor on Dec. 19, 2017.

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Big Sky Conference race: Weber State not wavering

The Griz have held a two-game lead atop the league standings since Jan. 13, when they beat Portland State to improve to 6-0. The Wildcats  (13-7, 6-2) were one of five teams with two losses at the time, and they've won three straight since that date to remain in second place. Idaho and Eastern Washington each have three losses, and every other team has lost four or more times.

On their current three-game winning streak, the Wildcats have beaten Sacramento State, Portland State and Idaho State. They’ve won six of seven games since they opened conference play with a 62-60 loss to Idaho State at home. The lone loss in that stretch came on the road at North Dakota, 89-79.

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Northern Arizona winless no more

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The Lumberjacks (4-18, 1-8) became the 12th and final team to earn a conference victory. They had lost their first seven league games before they slipped past Montana State, 77-75, on Thursday.

They played without leading scorer JoJo Anderson and bench regulars Corey Brown and Lenell Henry. Anderson and Henry also sat out during Saturday’s 82-64 loss to the Griz.

In the win over the Cats, redshirt junior guard Torry Johnson scored a career-high 27 points. He’s averaging 23.7 points per game during the past three contests. In his first 18 games of the season, he averaged 8.8 points.

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Montana State ends four-game losing streak

The Bobcats (12-10, 5-4) won their first game since Jan. 6 against North Dakota by squeaking out a 69-66 win over Southern Utah on Saturday in Bozeman. They had lost their previous four games by an average of 13.8 points.

They beat the Thunderbirds despite missing 16 of their final 17 shot attempts in the last 12-plus minutes. Tyler Hall scored 23 points, his most since the win over North Dakota, and tied his season high with eight rebounds.

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Game to watch: Montana at Northern Colorado, 7 p.m. Thursday in Greeley, Colorado

Montana is 9-0 in conference play, including 5-0 on the road, and will face a stiff test at Northern Colorado. The Bears are 8-2 at home on the season compared to 3-5 on the road.

The Griz beat UNC, 89-80, in Missoula on Jan. 6 in their first test of adversity in conference play. They allowed the Bears to shoot 14 of 26 (53.8 percent) on 3-pointers, the most makes and second-highest percentage any team has shot against Montana in 21 games this season. Griz forward Jamar Akoh scored a career-high 34 points in the win as the Bears refused to double team him.

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