Montana (4-4) at Northern Arizona (4-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, December 19, 8:35 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Walkup Skydome (11,230) -- Flagstaff, Arizona. Television: FSN-AZ, W. Home Record: Montana 3-1, NAU 2-1. Away Record: Montana 1-3, NAU 1-3. Neutral Record: Montana 0-0, NAU 0-0. Conference Record: Montana 0-0, NAU 1-0. Series Record: Montana leads, 59-31.
GAME NOTES: The Northern Arizona Lumberjacks put the wraps on a four-game homestand, as they entertain the Montana Grizzlies in Big Sky Conference action on Wednesday night.
After starting the year with a 72-65 win over Colorado State, Montana posted a three-game win streak, but since then it has suffered losses in three of its last four contests. Last Saturday's setback was the team's most heartbreaking of the year, as it dropped a 68-67 double-overtime thriller at home to South Dakota State.
Since losing its first two games of the season, NAU has alternated wins and losses in every matchup. The Lumberjacks were able to inch closer to .500 on Monday night by logging an impressive 87-80 home win over Montana State in their Big Sky opener.
Montana holds a firm lead on the series with NAU, winning 59 of the 90 previous meetings. The Grizzlies have won seven of the past eight, including both encounters last season.
In a back-and-forth game against South Dakota State, Montana held a 67-63 lead with less than two minutes remaining in the second overtime following a Mike Weisner 3-pointer, but it saw the lead disappear down the stretch as it went scoreless while SDSU drained the game-winning free throws with nine seconds to play. Weisner came off the bench to drain 4-of-6 from 3-point range for 13 points, while Mathias Ward (17 points) and Kareem Jamar (16 points, seven assists, six rebounds) also put together solid performances. The Grizzlies are averaging just shy of 70 ppg on 45.3 percent shooting from the field, and they have been especially potent from beyond the arc, making good on 65-of-153 3- point tries (.425). Jamar has been the team's catalyst thus far, as he averages 15.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg and 4.9 apg, all team-highs. Ward is also a dynamic scorer (14.9 ppg), but no other player averages double figures. Montana has been hampered by lackluster efforts on the boards (minus-5.5) and in the turnover battle (minus-1.5).
Behind 55.6 percent field goal shooting, NAU was able to build a 20-point second-half advantage against Montana State on Monday night, and while the latter climbed back to make it a single-digit game late, the Lumberjacks never surrendered their advantage. All five starters scored in double figures, led by a career-high 22 points from Max Jacobsen, who also grabbed nine rebounds. DeWayne Russell tallied 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists in the triumph, while Gaellan Bewernick scored 13, Stallon Saldivar had 12, and Gabe Rogers netted 11. The scoring outburst wasn't a complete departure from what NAU typically does at the offensive end, as it shoots close to 45 percent from the field for 70.0 ppg. Russell has had a sensational start to his freshman campaign, making 48.5 percent of his field goal attempts and 87.2 percent of his free throw attempts for 17.0 ppg while also adding 4.0 apg. Gabe Rogers has been inconsistent with his shot attempts (.321), but he makes nearly three treys per contest on his way to 15.8 ppg.
Montana appears to be a completely different team than it was last year when it won 25 games, as its three road losses already are just one fewer than the four it had all of last season. NAU appears to be rejuvenated with the addition of one of the Big Sky's best rookies in Russell, and on its home floor it should be able to move to 2-0 in conference play.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northern Arizona 72, Montana 68
12/19 10:40:33 ET