MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzlies are one win away from locking up their first outright Big Sky regular season title since the 2012-13 season.
They improved to 14-2, earned a share of the title and locked up a top-three seed in the conference tournament with Saturday’s win over Montana State combined with Idaho’s win over Weber State.
The Vandals and Wildcats are both 12-4 in league play, two games behind the Griz with two regular-season games to go. Idaho owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over both teams.
The Griz need to win one game to be the conference’s sole champion and earn the top seed in the league tournament. They host Weber State on Thursday — the top game to watch in a rather weak week — and seventh-place Idaho State (8-8) on Saturday for senior night.
The only way Idaho or Weber State could claim a share of the title is if the Griz lose both of their games and Idaho or Weber win both of their games. Idaho hosts 12th-place Northern Arizona (2-14) and ninth-place Southern Utah (5-11), and Weber State plays at Montana and eighth-place Montana State (6-10).
The Griz will be the second seed if they lose both games, Idaho wins both games and Weber State beats Montana but loses at Montana State. Idaho owns the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Griz.
They could also be second if they lose both, Weber wins both and Idaho splits. Weber State would own the head-to-head tiebreaker by beating the Griz.
Montana could only be the third seed if it loses both games, and Idaho and Weber both sweep, meaning they would both own head-to-head tiebreakers over the Griz. In this scenario, Idaho would be the top seed, Weber State would be No. 2 and Montana would be third.
Idaho will finish the season without senior guard Perrion Callandret, who suffered a broken right patella (kneecap) on Thursday, head coach Don Verlin announced during Saturday's pregame show. His recovery time is expected to be four to six weeks.
Callandret was fourth on the team in scoring (9.6 points) and second in assists (3.0) and steals (0.9). He was shooting 40.7 percent on 3-pointers. He had started the first 21 games and came off the bench the past six games.
He had suffered an undisclosed season-ending knee injury last season, playing in only two games.
Eastern Washington’s Bogdan Bliznyuk joins 2,000-point club, wins player of the week
Eagles senior guard/forward Bogdan Bliznyuk became the fifth player in the 55-year history of the Big Sky Conference to score over 2,000 career points.
Already Eastern Washington’s all-time leading scorer, he reached the new plateau with 17 points during the Eagles’ 74-69 road win over Idaho State on Saturday. He averaged 22 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals in wins over Weber State and Idaho State, the Eagles’ first road sweep in two years.
The player of the week award is his fourth this season, the most of any player. He’s won the award in back-to-back weeks and for the third time in five weeks.
The Lutsk, Ukraine, native is up to 2,013 points in 132 games, an average of 15.25 per game.
Former Griz Larry Krystkowiak (1982-86) is fourth in conference history with 2,017 career points. Weber State’s Bruce Collins (1976-80) is third with 2,019 points, and fellow Wildcat Jeremy Senglin (2013-17) is second with 2,078 points.
Idaho’s Orlando Lightfoot (1991-94) holds the conference record with 2,102 points. He needed just three seasons to set that mark, averaging 23.1 points in 91 games.
Bliznyuk will have at least three more games — two in the regular season and at least one in the conference tournament — to try to reset the record.
Griz move up to No. 14 in mid-major poll
Montana rebounded from its first two conference losses with a 90-63 thumping of Montana State this past week.
That helped the Griz move up two spots to No. 14 the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 Poll, released Monday afternoon. They garnered 365 votes, up from 277 last week; Gonzaga tops the poll with 775 votes.
Idaho and Weber State were both in the section of others receiving votes.
The Griz debuted in the poll at No. 24 on Jan. 15. They gradually moved up to No. 21 on Jan. 22, No. 16 on Jan. 29 and No. 14 on Feb. 5.
They were No. 12 on Feb. 12 after their 13-0 conference start, but they fell to No. 16 on Feb. 19 after they got swept on the road at Eastern Washington and Idaho.
Idaho State’s Erik Nakken receives academic award
Bengals redshirt senior Erik Nakken is the lone Big Sky men’s basketball player to be named First-Team Academic All-District by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).
This is the second consecutive honor for Nakken, a reserve guard for Idaho State who has totaled 35 points in 25 games this season.
A native of Cedar City, Utah, he boasts a 3.99 grade-point average while double majoring in biology-bio medical science and German.
Nakken will be placed on the CoSIDA Academic All-America Team ballot, with first-, second- and third-team All-America honors being announced in March.
Three Big Sky women’s basketball players earned recognition for the award. Eastern Washington’s Delaney Hodgins and Idaho’s Mikayla Ferenz made the first team, and Northern Colorado’s Savannah Scott garnered second-team accolades.