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What I'll be watching: Conference leads up for grabs

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Posted at 8:12 PM, Jan 28, 2021

Montana's high school basketball season is entering the home stretch.

The final weekend of January means the postseason is looming. Teams are making a push for regular-season conference titles and postseason positioning.

There's a three-way log-jam atop the Eastern AA boys race, but two of those teams meet on Thursday night. Missoula Sentinel is the only remaining unbeaten in Class AA, but the Spartans have a huge rivalry test Thursday night.

Defending co-champion Helena Capital is looking to avoid a second loss in the Western AA girls race, while Billings West can put some separation between itself and the rest of the Eastern AA this weekend.

The Southwest A has a huge game on tap Saturday, as the only two unbeaten teams in conference play meet for the first time this season. The highly-anticipated showdown between Class A's defending girls co-champions finally will take place on Friday, as a pair of rivals meet yet again.

After a retroactive forfeit, the Lodge Grass boys are looking up in the District 3B standings at Colstrip. The Indians have a chance to right that on Thursday night. The top spot in District 4B is up for grabs on Friday night, as Huntley Project can distance itself from the pack.

Great Falls Central's girls suffered their first loss last weekend. Thursday night won't be any easier for the Mustangs. Two of the Western B's best will meet in a non-conference showdown on Saturday night that is likely a preview of two teams that will be competiting for a divisional title.

The Bridger boys have been steamrolling teams in District 6C since a narrow season-opening victory. Saturday night the Scouts get their biggest test in weeks. Manhattan Christian and Twin Bridges have been two of the best boys programs in the Western C for several years. Both are unbeaten, but only one will survive Friday night's battle.

Can anyone slow down the Fort Benton girls? The Longhorns are the only unbeaten team in the Northern C but have a big conference game on Friday night. Two of the top three teams in District 6C meet on Saturday night. Their first matchup of the year was decided by single digits.

That and more highlight what I'll be watching in another weekend loaded with high school hoops.

Reminder: Scores, stats and record-breaking performances can be submitted to sports@ktvh.com.

Boys

Class AA

  • Billings Skyview, Bozeman and Great Falls High all sit 4-1 in Eastern AA play and in a tie atop the conference standings. Skyview visits Great Falls on Thursday night in the biggest game of the season to date for both teams. The defending co-champion Falcons have been red hot since an early loss to Bozeman and will need to keep that type of play rolling if they hope to beat the Bison on the road.
  • Missoula Sentinel sits alone atop the Western AA standings, but the Spartans have some tough competition lingering close behind. Sentinel will put its unbeaten record on the line against rival Missoula Hellgate, which is 4-1 in conference play, on Thursday night. If Sentinel is able to win, the Spartans are in great position to win the regular season conference title.

Class A

  • Dillon and Frenchtown are the only two teams in the Southwest A yet to lose a conference game. The two sides will play in Frenchtown on Saturday night as the lead in the conference is up for grabs. If early success this season is any indication, Dillon and Frenchtown will see each other several times this season.
  • Hardin has been reeling of late and the schedule does the Bulldogs no favors this week. Hardin will play Southeast A rival Billings Central on Friday night, then the Bulldogs turn around and play Class B rival Lodge Grass on Saturday. A win over Billings Central would also give Laurel a huge advantage in the conference standings.

Class B

  • Though Lodge Grass hasn't lost a conference game on the court this season, the Indians have a forfeit on their resume that has them sitting second in District 3B. Lodge Grass can change that on Thursday night when they play conference leader Colstrip. Colstrip will again be a tough out this year, even with the amount of youth the Colts have. Lodge Grass would be smart not to overlook Colstrip.
  • Huntley Project was the preseason favorite in District 4B, and the Red Devils haven't disappointed in conference play. Project has raced out to a perfect 5-0 record in conference but has a stiff test ahead on Friday, as it will travel to Red Lodge, which is 7-1 overall and 3-1 in conference play. Project can take firm control of the regular season title race with a victory on the road, but the Rams are looking to shake things up.

Class C

  • Since Bridger's season-opening 48-41 win at Harlowton-Ryegate, the Scouts haven't had a game closer than 20 points. Bridger is unbeaten but will put that record to the test against the Engineers again on Saturday. The Scouts are looking to make a statement to the rest of District 6C that the conference title rolls through Bridger.
  • For years Manhattan Christian has had a stranglehold over the Western C, in particular Twin Bridges. The Falcons haven't quite been able to clear the hurdle that is the Eagles, but they've got another shot on Friday night. Both are unbeaten and in search of a District 12C regular season title.

Girls

Class AA

  • Defending co-champion Helena Capital has faced an uphill battle in the Western AA since losing 52-50 to Missoula Hellgate back on Jan. 9. There are several teams hot on the Bruins' tails, too, including Kalispell Glacier. Glacier has cooled off a bit after a torrid start to the year, but the Wolfpack can jump right back into the thick of the Western AA with a win.
  • Class AA's other defending co-champion, Billings West, is 5-0 and has looked the part of a title contender all year long. West will play 4-1 Great Falls High on Saturday with a chance to firmly position itself in the upper echelon of Class AA girls teams. Great Falls High can make it a three-team race along with Bozeman if the Bison can knock off the Golden Bears.

Class A

  • Both of Class A's defending co-champions have looked quite impressive so far, combining for a 14-0 record. Hardin and Billings Central will battle for supremacy in the Southeast A on Friday night, as both sides look for an early leg up the 2021 edition of the rivalry. Something tells me these two teams, already so familiar with each other, will see each other again in the postseason.

Class B

  • Coming off its first loss of the year, Great Falls Central is tasked with taking on District 1B leading Fairfield. Fairfield can make it a tough road for the Mustangs to have a shot at the regular season conference title. Great Falls Central, which just lost to Choteau, can turn the final few weeks of the regular season into a sprint between itself, the Eagles and the Bulldogs. A lot rides on Thursday night's matchup.
  • Anaconda is also coming off its first loss of the year, a 64-54 setback at Whitehall last Saturday. The District 6B-leading Copperheads have another tough game ahead as host 6-2 Thompson Falls, one of the top contenders for the District 7B crown. If Anaconda wants to be one of the elite teams in the Western B, it needs to make a statement at home.

Class C

  • The Fort Benton girls are a runaway freight train right now. The Longhorns are coming off an 88-6 thrashing of Big Sandy and turn their attention to North Star, who visits Fort Benton on Friday night. North Star is 5-1 in conference play and is trying to atone for a 50-36 loss to the Longhorns back on Jan. 8. Fort Benton, though, has looked the part of a state championship-caliber team so far.
  • Harlowton-Ryegate has been a model of consistency in the Southern C. The Engineers are taking aim at yet another District 6C title and can move one step closer on Saturday night at Bridger. The two sides opened the season against each other in Harlowton with the Engineers picking up a 43-34 win, Bridger's only loss. Harlowton-Ryegate's only loss came to Roberts by one, setting up a three-way battle atop the conference. At least one of those teams will take a big blow Saturday, though.