BOZEMAN -- Although it's rivalry week for the Montana State Bobcats men's basketball team, it has to get through Portland State Thursday night on the road before taking on Montana on Saturday.
The Cats sit at fourth in the Big Sky Conference with an 8-6 record in league play. Meanwhile, the Vikings are seventh (7-8) but only 1.5 games separate the two programs in the standings. With byes given to the top five teams in the conference tournament, and with teams like Northern Arizona and Southern Utah knocking on the door, the last six games in the regular season are incredibly important to Montana State.
The Cats lost to PSU by one point the last time the teams met and MSU head coach Danny Sprinkle knows what they need to fix come Thursday.
"The one thing you have to to do against Portland State is you have to take care of the ball," Sprinkle said. "If you turn the ball over and let them get some easy baskets, you can really put yourself in a hole early. Then you have to box out."
The Cats rank last in the conference in turnover margin, while Portland state is second-best behind Montana. But when Sprinkle says box out, he means it. The Cats need to control the glass against the Vikings.
"They're the third-best offensive rebounding team in the country this year. They get a lot of second-chance points and a lot of points off turnovers and if you allow them to do that, they're really tough to beat," Sprinkle said.
Portland State grabs 14.33 offensive rebounds per game. Only West Virginia and the University at Buffalo average more.
Montana State and PSU tip off Thursday at 8 p.m. (MST) in Portland.