BOZEMAN — Last season on the hardwood was special for Montana State. The Bobcats' men's and women's teams each won Big Sky Conference championships and advanced to their respective NCAA tournaments.
MSU's men, winners of both the regular season and postseason tourney in the Big Sky, begin defense of their titles Thursday when they host Idaho at Worthington Arena at 7 p.m. The Bobcats come into the game with a 13-game home winning streak, the second-longest streak in program history.
Montana State went 7-6 during its nonconference schedule. Most recently, the Cats were beaten 85-64 on the road against No. 5 Arizona on Dec. 20. It was MSU's first game against a top-5 opponent in nearly 10 years.
"If you would've told me before the game that we'd have 24 points in the paint and Arizona would have 26 points in the paint, I'd be pretty excited," coach Danny Sprinkle stated in a press release. "But it came down to making shots. We were 3-for-25 from 3, and a lot of them were open. We had some good looks."
MSU opens Big Sky play with a 4-1 record in their last five conference home openers, and are 5-1 against Idaho under Sprinkle. The Bobcats are led by RaeQuan Battle, who averages 17.2 points per game. Reigning league MVP and defensive player of the year Jubrile Belo is at 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.
Montana State's women, who placed second in the regular-season standings last year but went on to win the Big Sky tournament, went 7-5 in its nonconference schedule entering Thursday's game at Idaho, which tips at 7 p.m. Mountain time.
MSU's most recent outing was a 64-43 victory over Nevada at the Maui Invitational on Dec. 18. A scheduled game at home against Cal Poly on Dec. 21 was canceled.
The Nevada game "was a great way to end the nonconference portion of our schedule," MSU coach Tricia Binford said in an MSU release. "We have grown as a team, and we still have a lot to learn, but I like where we're at heading into the Big Sky season."
Darian White, the league's preseason MVP, leads MSU with an 11.2 points-per-game average. She also averages 5.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Leia Beattie adds 11.1 points per game.
After Thursday, MSU's women will take on Eastern Washington on the road on New Year's Eve (Saturday) for a 3 p.m. Mountain-time tip. The Bobcat men will host EWU on Saturday at 2 p.m.