OGDEN -- Apparently the Big Sky Conference's schedule makers have a sense of humor.
Pitting the league's two fiercest competitors over the past few seasons against each other in a Valentine's Day grudge match -- now that's funny.
A battle between Big Sky leader Montana and second-place Weber State is a game any basketball fan could love, however, even if there's no love lost between the two teams.
While they're bound together by their quest for Big Sky supremacy over the past several seasons, a minor scuffle sparked by some postgame trash-talking after their hard-fought last meeting demonstrates the competitive nature of their history.
"What we expect from (tonight's) game is a hard-nosed game," Wildcats senior forward Frank "Mook" Otis said. "They're a really good defensive team. It's going to be a battle, it's going to be a dogfight. Everybody should expect that. They don't like us, we don't like them, plain and simple. It's a true rivalry game."
Montana (18-4, 14-0) hasn't lost a Big Sky regular season game since January 2012 -- to Weber State in Ogden, of course -- and have set a league-record with 25 consecutive conference wins (plus two more in Big Sky tourney games).
It would be a Valentine's gift sweeter than chocolate and flowers to their fans if the Wildcats (17-5, 12-2) can end that streak tonight at 7 p.m. at the Dee Events Center, as well as Montana's current 14-game overall winning streak, the second-longest in the nation.
A Griz win tonight gives Montana a three-game advantage in the conference race with five games left to play, while a Weber State victory cuts Montana's lead to one game and puts pressure on the Grizzlies to not stumble in the chase to host the Big Sky Tournament and to earn the tourney's only first-round bye.
"This is what we've tried to do since we've been here," seventh-year Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. "We want to be in the mix every single year and we're in the mix. Now we've got to try to go do something about it. This is what gets your juices flowing. This is what you play for. Should be an exciting night."
Weber State and Montana's last three meetings have been plenty exciting, but all three have gone to the Griz.
The 'Cats and Grizzlies squared off in Missoula, Mont., on the final day of the 2012 regular season with first place and the right to host the Big Sky Tournament on the line, then met there again a week later for the tourney championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
In their Jan. 26 meeting this season, Otis and fellow Oakland, Calif., native Davion Berry led the Wildcats with 17 points each while Otis' former McClymonds High teammate Will Cherry paced all scorers with 28 points in their Jan. 26 contest. Cherry and the Griz held on for a 76-74 win as Berry missed a desperation shot from just inside the halfcourt line at the buzzer.
Montana's Big 3 -- senior forward Mathias Ward (14.8 points per game), junior forward Kareem Jamar (13.9 ppg) and senior point guard Cherry (13.3 ppg) -- have led the Griz to just the third 14-0 record in Big Sky history.
Berry is the Wildcats' leading scorer at 14.6 ppg, fifth in the league, while senior shooting guard Scott Bamforth contributes 13.0 ppg and junior center Kyle Tresnak adds 12.0 ppg.
Otis averages 9.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game but has scored in double figures in four of his last six games and is shooting 74 percent from the field in conference games.
As a senior, Otis can see the season winding down and he's loving every game he has left in his Weber State career.
"It's getting emotional," Otis said. "We've only got a couple more games, so I'm playing every one like it's my last."
While adhering to the coaching adage that every game is a big game, Rahe acknowledged the intrigue surrounding tonight's contest.
"This is a big game," Rahe said. "You obviously want to perform very well and be ready to go, be emotionally in charge. Our guys will be. They're going to be ready to play, as will Montana. These are fun games. These are the games that you want to play college basketball for."