(Editor’s note: Montana State University press release)

BOZEMAN – Montana State’s conference season doesn’t officially begin until the Bobcats play at Southern Utah on December 28, but the team’s game at Omaha Thursday provides a pretty good dry run.

“I like to play one non-conference team twice every season,” Bobcat coach Brian Fish said, “because it simulates a conference series. The guys don’t just watch tape (on the opponent), they get to see themselves on tape against (the opponent). We see adjustments, we have to make adjustments, and against a good program like Omaha we know they’ll be well-prepared. I have a ton of respect for Derrin (Hansen, Omaha’s coach) and his program.”

Fish has known of Omaha’s long-time coach for many years, but Thursday’s 6 pm MT contest marks the fourth meeting between MSU and the Mavericks in the last 25 months. UNO won the first three before an 89-80 overtime win by the Bobcats in Great Falls to open this season. “It was a great event,” Fish said of the night that saw 4,000 fans pour into Pacific Steel and Recycling Four Seasons Arena for a conference-like contest regardless of where it fell on the schedule, “but I think it gets a little lost how good a game it was.”

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Harald Frey scored a career-high 29 points and Tyler Hall’s 19 included big shots at the end of regulation and in overtime to pace the Cats, while Omaha’s Daniel Norl was one of four Mavericks in double-digits scoring for the Mavericks.

Frey looks forward to an intense rematch. “I think it will be a fun game,” the sophomore sharp-shooter said. “They’re a better team than their record, they’ve played a really tough non-conference schedule, and we know they’ll be ready.”

Foul trouble and personnel changes pushed the Bobcats into the uncomfortable position of mixing and matching lineup combinations in Monday’s 79-65 win over Denver, but Fish said that benefits his team in the long run. “I’m really proud of the guys that came off the bench that haven’t had the game reps they’d like,” he said of an effort that led to 29 bench points. “The (non-conference) season is about figuring out the team and the players figuring out their roles, but we had to change some things (Monday). That was good experience for a lot of guys.”

Thursday’s game is MSU’s final non-conference tune-up before opening Big Sky play at Southern Utah on December 28.“We’re like pros,” Fish said of his team’s routine between the end of final exams at MSU last week and the beginning of second semester on January 10, “just playing and practicing. It’s a great time for a team to get better.”

Montana State’s game Thursday is available statewide on the Bobcat Radio Network, with audio and video also available at msubobcats.com.