The calendar has flipped to February, meaning the race for conference championships is heating up.
Missoula Hellgate’s boys continue to be the class of the Western AA. The Knights had an emphatic victory over the weekend to solidify that point. Hellgate’s girls look like one of the Western AA’s top teams, while Kalispell Glacier found a way to win what could be one of its most important games of the season.
Hamilton’s boys find themselves on top of the Southwest A after their biggest win of the season, while Libby kept hope alive for a regular season conference title. Hardin’s girls locked up a conference title, while Dillon has nearly clinched its conference crown.
The Lodge Grass boys still haven’t lost to a Class B team in Montana this year, although the Indians flirted with disaster last week on the road. Fairfield continued its hot streak and looks like it is going to lock up the District 1B regular season title. On the girls side, two unbeaten teams entered the weekend with tests ahead. Both squads passed those tests with flying colors.
Manhattan Christian’s boys were throwing haymakers at the state record book this past weekend, while Melstone kept its perfect record intact and has essentially locked up the District 4C regular season crown. Melstone’s girls also have all but locked up the conference crown, as the Broncs carried their unbeaten record forward.
That and more highlight what caught my eye during another busy weekend on Montana’s high school basketball courts.
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- Billings Skyview is playing some of its best basketball of the season right now. The Falcons, fresh off two wins in Great Falls, handed Bozeman a 59-52 defeat last Thursday, thrusting the Falcons into the top three of the Eastern AA. Skyview is beginning to establish itself as one of the top teams in the conference, now the Falcons can turn their sights on conference leader Billings West.
- Missoula Hellgate looks like it's on a mission. The Knights, who finished second at last year’s State AA tournament, handed second-place Missoula Sentinel a beatdown last Friday, beating the Spartans 73-45. Hellgate continues its run as the only unbeaten team remaining in Class AA this season and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Sentinel will be in a tight battle with Helena Capital for the conference’s No. 2-seed as the season winds down.
- Hamilton is suddenly atop the Southwest A. The Broncs handed Butte Central its second loss in as many weekends, 52-47, to allow Hamilton to leapfrog Butte Central in the conference standings. Butte Central started the season on fire but has now lost twice in its past four games. Hamilton and Butte Central likely have postseason meetings ahead.
- Libby appears to be another contender for the Western A crown, as the Loggers gave Browning its first loss in conference play with an 11-point win over the Indians. Libby has now hit double-digit wins this season and is pushing for the Northwest A regular season title. The Western A divisional tournament is shaping up to be a doozy.
- Lodge Grass was pushed to the limits last Thursday night by Colstrip, but the Indians came from behind to force overtime and eventually win in Colstrip, 87-74. Lodge Grass has yet to lose to a Class B team in Montana this season, and the win over Colstrip essentially locks up the District 3B regular season title. Lodge Grass and Colstrip could potentially meet multiple times throughout the postseason.
- Fairfield is certainly looking like one of the Northern B’s top contenders. The Eagles beat Shelby for the second time this season with a 57-53 win last weekend. Fairfield has yet to lose in conference play and has a two-game lead over Shelby with just two weeks of play remaining. After missing out on the state tournament last year, the Eagles will likely be on the short list of teams in the running for the Northern B title.
- There’s hot, there’s on fire, then there’s whatever Manhattan Christian’s Sam Leep was last Thursday. Leep set a new Montana record by knocking down 14 3-pointers en route to his school record 44 points. That’s only half the story, as the Eagles buried 22 3s as a team to tie the Montana record. Manhattan Christian has been one of the state’s premier 3-point shooting teams over the past few seasons, so it only felt like a matter of time before the Eagles did something as ridiculous as this.
- Melstone has really strung together victories over the past few seasons. The Broncs continue to do so this year, as a 52-38 win over Jordan on Friday night all but seals the District 4C regular season title for Melstone, which sits at 15-0. Melstone will be one of the favorites in the Southern C once again, but can anyone knock the Broncs off?
- Missoula Hellgate’s girls are firmly in second place in the Western AA, as the Knights beat crosstown rival Missoula Sentinel 56-51 on Friday to gain an advantage over the Spartans in the standings. The two will meet again before the end of the regular season, and it’s conceivable the two will play in the semifinals of the divisional tournament. Round 1 may have gone to Hellgate, but Sentinel will have ample opportunity to get revenge.
- Kalispell Glacier is entrenched as the Western AA’s No. 4-seed, as the Wolfpack split a weekend against the Helena teams. Although Glacier lost to undefeated Helena Capital, the Wolfpack took down Helena High to put a two-game gap in the standings between the Wolfpack and the Bengals. Glacier has work ahead, but it appears to be trending towards a state tournament berth.
- Hardin will be the Southeast A regular-season champion, as the Bulldogs sealed the deal with a 64-52 win in Laurel on Friday night. That will change how the seeding will break down for the Eastern A divisional tournament, but Hardin will likely have to go through either Billings Central or Havre to become divisional champions. It’s just the beginning, but it’s a step in the right direction for Hardin, which is looking to shake the feeling of losing three consecutive State A title games.
- Dillon has turned the Southwest A into a two-team race, as the Beavers handed Frenchtown a 38-25 defeat to essentially knock the Broncs out of conference title contention. Hamilton is likely the only team that can challenge Dillon for the conference title, but the Broncs won’t get their chance for nearly two weeks. Dillon’s girls continue to look like one of the top teams in the Western A.
- There were two unbeaten teams in Class B entering the weekend, and both teams left the weekend still perfect. District 5B-leading Big Timber got it started Thursday night in Columbus with a win over the District 4B-leading Cougars. Big Timber then walloped Whitehall, the No. 2 team in the Herders’ conference, to push their record to 14-0. The Southern B has been a wild division this year, so Big Timber’s entry into the State B tournament is far from guaranteed.
- Missoula Loyola was the other unbeaten in Class B, and the Breakers aced their test – a 48-35 win over visiting Bigfork. The Breakers have pushed their record to 14-0 and look like a solid bet to finish the regular season unbeaten. With how Loyola has handled its opponents, the Breakers will likely enter the Western B divisional as a heavy favorite. It’s a long way out, but we could potentially see Big Timber and Loyola, the two unbeatens, play in the semifinals of the State B tournament.
- The list of unbeaten teams in Class C girls basketball has narrowed, as Scobey visited Westby-Grenora and handed the Thunder their first loss of the season, 45-42. The two teams are in opposite districts and won’t play again until at least the Eastern C divisional tournament. It’s possible this is an Eastern C championship preview, as Scobey’s only loss this year is to Westby-Grenora and vice versa. Regardless, Scobey and Westby-Grenora have separated themselves as the top teams in what is a deep, talented Eastern C division.
- Melstone wasn’t going to let the list of unbeaten teams get cut in half, as the Broncs beat Wibaux 50-34 to maintain their perfect record and top spot in District 4C. The Broncs have all but sealed the conference title with just two weeks remaining in the regular season. Melstone hasn’t been to the State C girls tournament since 1977. With the mix of talent and youth in the lineup, the Broncs have their sights set on the state tournament not only this year, but in the coming years, too.