BOZEMAN – On Thursday, the Montana State Bobcats have one of their toughest tests of the Big Sky Conference season, facing Northern Colorado.

“I think they are one of the top teams in the league. I’m very impressed with what they’ve done. They’re playing with a purpose,” said Montana State men’s basketball head coach Brian Fish.

Currently, the Bears are the best team in the Big Sky. They are undefeated in conference play and had the most wins out of any Big Sky team during the non-conference schedule.

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“Their playing with extreme confidence, great guards, scoring the ball at will, have some big road wins. … Just really impressed what I see on film,” Fish said.

The Bears are the second-best offense in the Big Sky, but the Cats have also proven they can score behind junior Tyler Hall, who had 36 points against Southern Utah. He struggled shooting (20 percent) against NAU, but still recorded 16 points. And Fish has liked his progression coming back from his injury.

“I was really happy, because he got to the line eight times that night,” said Fish. “And he hasn’t done that as much because of the limitation with his ankle. To get to the line and to get 16 points when you’re not making the jump shot was something I was really happy about.”

Montana State needs to improve its shooting having hit only 30 percent of its attempts against the Lumberjacks, which likely won’t cut it against UNC.

“They’re certainly a tough game. We got to focus on them, and it’s going to take out best effort to have a chance,” Fish said.

On the women’s side, the Bobcats are in the hunt for their third straight Big Sky title. They are 2-0 in conference play, but they hit the road Thursday to play Northern Colorado and North Dakota.

“For us this is a huge step to prove where we are really at as a group and as a program if we can find a way to win on the road,” MSU women’s head coach Tricia Binford said.

The Cats have proved they are once again a Big Sky powerhouse, defeating NAU by 42 points on Saturday without Delaney Junkermier, who was out with a sprained ankle. But she likely will be back this week.

“(Delaney is) doing really well, so I’m super optimistic we’ll get her back this week, very optimistic,” Binford said.

And this team has been lights out from deep. In the past two games they have hit 34 3-pointers. It was a risk to move to a shooting-centric offense, but it has been working.

“It’s going away from an offense that has worked for us in winning two Big Sky titles,” said Binford. “We’re trying to find ways to play to our strengths with this group, and this was the change.”

MSU and Northern Colorado are undefeated in the Big Sky and Thursday will be a battle for first place.

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