MISSOULA — It's one of the biggest and most exciting weekends of basketball in the state, as the Montana and Montana State men's and women's basketball teams clash in Missoula on Saturday for the first time this season.
It's the first time the rivalry doubleheader will be played since 2020. And for all four programs, this game just means a little more.
“We say this when we're recruiting, at this level there is no rivalry like it in college basketball at this level,” said UM associate head coach Chris Cobb. “You can throw it in there with some of the Dukes, the Carolinas, the other great rivalries, I mean it's in there.”
Like any time when the Bobcats and Griz meet in any sport, records, hot or cold streaks … throw them all out. Friends and family fly in, the arena fills up and the whole state tunes in.
The men’s game will be the 304th meeting between the programs, the fifth-oldest rivalry in college basketball. It's a series in which the Grizzlies (9-10, 3-4 Big Sky) have won 20 of the last 22, including 11 straight at home.
But the Bobcats (12-8, 5-2) are coming off of a run to the NCAA tournament and currently sit top three in the Big Sky standings.
“They're tough I think since coach (Danny) Sprinkle's been there,” Cobb said. “They've been one of the teams that you look at on film you watch in games, they play with a level of pride and a level of desperation when they're on the court.
“In (Sprinkle’s) three years, I can't think of a team we compete against that maybe plays with where the front of the jersey is as important as they do.”
The Griz will be in the friendly confines of Dahlberg Arena in the first meeting between the two schools, an advantage they're well aware of.
“It's crazy. Definitely when you play at home you feel a lot of love,” said Griz senior guard Josh Vazquez. “Personally I feel it more when you go on the road because there's a lot of people that like to chit chat and let you know how they feel about this rivalry too so it's just something that I love it personally because I tune it out and it gives me energy but it's a big time rivalry that I'm glad to be a part of.”
“That's always the great equalizer whether you're here or there,” Cobb offered. “When you make a 3 in this game on Saturday, it feels like you just made seven 3s in a row, like that's the type of momentum push you get. It's a big deal and we want to show out and we want to be able to represent the Griz the right way and Griz Nation.”
The women's game will get the day started. The Lady Griz (8-10, 4-3 Big Sky) beat the Bobcats last year in Missoula, which snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Bobcats.
But MSU's women (12-7, 5-2) also return a squad that won the Big Sky title and went to the NCAA tournament last March, and UM knows its hands will be full come Saturday afternoon with the experienced Bobcats.
“But the bottom line is it's a war,” said Lady Griz coach Brian Holsinger. “They were so motivated and so fired up and so inspired in that game, we played really well and so you have to take some of the emotion out. It's a balance between emotion and execution and so as a coach you're trying to tweak the right things to get that balance.”
Tipoff for the women is at 2 p.m. and at 7 for the men, and the Montana Television Network will have the broadcast of both games across the state.