BUTTE — Sure, the Montana Tech men's basketball team is a day away from facing archrival Carroll College for the first time in nearly a year.
And yes, the last time the Orediggers and Saints clashed it was for all the marbles — the Frontier Conference tournament title.
And, as we all know, that memorable contest ended in Tech's Drew Huse knocking down a game-winning 3-pointer to lift the Orediggers to one of their most significant victories in program history — the culmination of six years of work, belief and perseverance for head coach Adam Hiatt.
But Hiatt hasn't been feeling too sentimental this week.
"Last year was last year, that season is over," said Hiatt at a Tuesday practice at the HPER Complex. "This Carroll team presents a whole new set of obstacles for us."
Hiatt knows that nothing will be certain when his No. 13 Orediggers host the No. 24 Saints on Thursday evening at Tech as the Frontier Conference gets rolling again. The doubleheader will see the Tech women play No. 11 Carroll at 5 p.m. while the men's game is slated to tip off at 7 p.m.
The Tech men have had this game circled on the calendar for a while.
"This schedule came out a long time ago," said junior forward Caleb Bellach, who is leading Tech in scoring with 16.4 points per game. "As soon as the season got over I know I was ready. I wanted to know when this game was gonna be and January 5 is a date everyone's kind of been looking forward to. And I'm sure they have too cause it's a great rivalry."
The Carroll men — who saw their last two games in Santa Barbara, Calif., cancelled during the turbulent holiday travel season — are sitting at 7-6 overall after posting an 0-4 record at the Cactus Classic in Arizona. The Saints have found their leading scorer in sophomore Andrew Cook who is averaging just over 17 points per game.
The Oredigger men — who closed out non-conference play on a four-game win streak — carry a 13-2 overall record into Thursday's Top 25 matchup. Tech's two loses came to top-ranked Arizona Christian and a three-point loss to Montana Western.
And if there's any evidence to the parity of Frontier basketball it's this — all six men's teams have played two conference games so far, and all six squads went 1-1 in that span, winning the home game and dropping the road game.
But with the calendar now turned to a new year, Tech — and everyone in the Frontier — knows that the real grind is about to begin. As Hiatt described it, "a gauntlet."
"This is the second phase of our season," Hiatt said. "The second phase is the conference year. All the stuff in the non-conference, all that is worth is just preparing us for the conference grind."
With all six teams sitting even at 1-1 in league play, Hiatt knows how important Thursday's contests will be.
"We're just trying to gain a lead," Hiatt said. "Can we get back into first place in the Frontier Conference? And it starts on Thursday."