Most top teams held steady in the standings in January’s final weekend of high school basketball, but there were a few upsets that shook up the postseason picture.
Another unbeaten team was knocked off its perch, while Class B’s top-ranked boys team survived a shot at the buzzer to stave off its first loss. Other heavyweights, such as Billings West’s girls and Hardin’s boys, kept their regular-season conference title hopes alive with big weekend wins. Several districts still have multiple teams alive for conference titles and will have plenty to be decided in the coming weeks.
- Bozeman bounced back after a tough weekend in Great Falls with a big win at home over Billings West on Thursday night. The Hawks kept themselves alive in the Eastern AA’s regular-season conference title race, while also moving ahead of Billings West with the head-to-head win. West’s weekend got worse, though, as the Bears lost at Class A Laurel, too. The two teams appear to be headed opposite directions with the season winding down.
- Helena High solidified its third-place standing in the Western AA with a pair of wins against the Kalispell schools over the weekend. Saturday’s win over Glacier, though, moved the Bengals ahead of the Wolfpack in the conference standings. Behind a strong defense, the Bengals are looking like a strong bet to make the State AA tournament once again.
- The Western AA, again, appears to be Helena High’s to lose. The Bengals remained Class AA’s only unbeaten team with a win at Kalispell Glacier on Saturday afternoon. The loss marked back-to-back losses to Helena Capital and Helena High for Glacier and moves the Wolfpack back to third in the Western AA. Capital looks to be the only team left capable of knocking the Bengals from the Western AA’s top spot.
- Billings West bounced back from its first loss of the season with perhaps its biggest win of the season. The Bears beat visiting Bozeman on Thursday night to maintain their lead over the Hawks in the Eastern AA standings and, more importantly, keep pace with Butte, which is still unbeaten in conference play.
- Butte Central’s 13-game winning streak was snapped by defending Western A champion Hamilton on Saturday afternoon on the road. Hamilton, which has now ripped off seven consecutive wins, kept its hope of the Southwestern A regular-season conference title alive with the win. Hamilton’s 55 points represented its second-lowest total of the season – the other being 50 against the Maroons back in December.
- Defending Class A champion Hardin survived a scare on the road on Friday night, holding off Laurel for a four-point win. The Bulldogs essentially knocked the Locomotives out of the Eastern A regular-season title picture, as Billings Central is unbeaten and Hardin has only lost to the Rams. As expected heading into the season, the Eastern A figures to come down to Billings Central and Hardin.
- 2018 Class A runner-up Hardin moved right back into contention in the Eastern A, and into the top five of the MontanaSports.com power rankings, with a win at Laurel, which was previously unbeaten in conference play. After a slow start to the season, the Bulldogs have hit their stride recently and have won six consecutive games.
- Corvallis suffered a defeat to Columbia Falls, but the Blue Devils topped Frenchtown and now sit in sole possession of first place in the Southwestern A after Butte Central lost. After missing the state tournament last season, Corvallis looks to be in great position to challenge for a spot out of the Western A.
- Colstrip’s boys pushed their record to 14-0, but just barely. The top-ranked Colts survived a last-second heave by Lodge Grass to hold off the Indians for a one-point win on the road. Colstrip now has essentially locked up the District 3B regular-season title. Lodge Grass, on the other hand, proved that it’s capable of hanging with Class B’s top teams and could make some noise at the Southern B divisional tournament.
- Missoula Loyola got the better of Bigfork in the second meeting between the two teams, winning by 10 on the Vikings’ home floor on Saturday. With the win,Loyola jumped to No. 3 in the MontanaSports.com power rankings and looks like the team to beat in February’s Western B divisional tournament. Defending Class B champion Bigfork has now lost a pair of games to the top two teams in District 6B, as Deer Lodge beat the Vikings back on Jan. 5.
- District 1B continues to shuffle teams atop the conference. Cut Bank’s 56-50 win at Shelby on Thursday propelled the Wolves to the top of the conference. While Cut Bank owns a pair of wins over Shelby and has split with Fairfield, the Wolves have also lost to Rocky Boy, which sits at the bottom of the district. Consistency will be key for Cut Bank, Shelby and Fairfield to find separation in the season’s final weeks.
- Huntley Project handed Roundup its first conference loss of the season and moved into a tie atop District 4B with the Panthers. The Red Devils are just 8-6 on the season but have wins over Columbus and Roundup, both of which have won at least 10 games this season. The Southern B divisional tournament certainly looks like it could have eight teams with a legitimate shot at the title.
- Plenty Coups is capable of putting up points in a hurry, and Fromberg got a first-hand look at the Warriors’ potent offense on Friday night. Plenty Coups put up 76 points in the first half against the Falcons en route to a 136-21 win. The Warriors had six different players in double figures, including two scoring at least 25 points. However, the Plenty Coups offense scored more points in the first quarter (48) against Fromberg than it did in the entirety of Saturday’s three-point loss at Broadview-Lavina (45).
- Points were scarcer on the eastern side of the state, where Plentywood’s boys picked up a huge District 2C win over Froid-Medicine Lake, 42-37. Plentywood’s home victory kept the Wildcats amongst the district’s top three teams. However, there are currently six teams in the district sitting at 3-2 or better in conference play and no unbeaten teams, meaning each conference games becomes increasingly critical as the season winds down.
- Third-ranked Froid-Medicine Lake took care of business on the road against Plentywood, another contender in the Eastern C. The Red Hawks have pushed their record to 13-0 and sit in a tie with No. 2 Savage for the District 2C lead. Plentywood’s regular-season conference title hopes are greatly diminished, as the Wildcats now sit in a tie for fourth in the district.
- The District 11C race took a turn this weekend when West Yellowstone handed Manhattan Christian its first conference loss of the season. The one-point win for the Wolverines gives them hope for the conference title, but it also brings the Shields Valley girls to the forefront of the title race. The Rebels can take control of the district by handing the Eagles another loss this weekend.