Kingpins ’Cats, Griz on collision course

Feb 14 2013 - 2:25pm

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Randy Rahe
Wayne Tinkle
Randy Rahe
Wayne Tinkle

OGDEN -- The last time Montana lost a Big Sky Conference game was Jan. 14, 2012 -- 13 months ago -- to Weber State at the Dee Events Center.

Since then, the first-place Grizzlies have won a record 25 consecutive regular season Big Sky games, breaking a mark held by Weber State for the last 43 years. Including Big Sky Tournament games, Montana has actually won 27 in a row over league teams.

That streak includes a three wins over the second-place Wildcats, starting with one of the biggest regular season games in conference history. Weber State and Montana were each 14-1 coming into the final game of the 2011-12 league race, but it was the Grizzlies who claimed the crown and the right to host the Big Sky Tournament in Missoula, Mont.

Homecourt advantage helped Montana beat WSU again a week later in the tournament championship to earn the right to play in the NCAA Tournament, knocking Weber State out of the conference tournament for the third consecutive seasons.

After the Wildcats (17-5, 12-2 Big Sky) were swept by Montana State and Montana in a late January road trip this season, the Griz (18-4, 14-0) are in command of the conference race once again with a two-game lead.

With that history between them, Thursday's battle at 7 p.m. at the Dee Events Center is WSU's final opportunity to directly attack Montana's lead in the league title chase and the battle to host the Big Sky Tournament.

Rahe's Wildcats were the last team to beat the Griz; they'd also like to be the next team to beat them.

"They're two games up, we're two games back. If we can find a way to beat them Thursday night, now we put a little heat on them," Rahe said. "They haven't felt much heat this year, so we need to put a little heat on them and play well and put ourselves in a position to do that. Then we'll see how they respond the rest of the way and how we respond the rest of the way."

While Montana's current 14-game winning streak is tied for second-longest in the country, Weber State has a streak of its own to protect -- the Wildcats have won 15 consecutive Big Sky games at home in the Purple Palace.

Rahe and Montana coach Wayne Tinkle, both former assistants to current Utah State coach Stew Morrill, came into the Big Sky together and are each in their seventh season as head coaches.

In that span, Rahe has a conference record of 85-24 for a winning percentage of .780, tops in the Big Sky Conference, one spot ahead of Tinkle (80-30, .727). Their overall career records are nearly identical, with Rahe at 136-73 (.651) and Tinkle at 134-75 (.641) -- again, first and second among league coaches.

While insisting that the biggest game of the year is always the next one on the schedule, Rahe acknowledged that his team will be revved up for Thursday's challenge against Montana.

"They've got a very good team, they've won a whole bunch of games in a row; they've got a bunch of guys that have won a whole bunch of basketball games up there. They've done an outstanding job with their program over the last couple, three years," Rahe said.

"I think these last two teams have been the best teams they've had in school history, so we know that it's going to be a big challenge, we're going to have to play extremely well and we're going to have to play well in a lot of areas."

 

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