Mens Basketball Opens March Madness at Montana
MISSOULA, Mont. – The last
time Northern Arizona played a Big Sky Tournament game in Missoula
in 2000, the Lumberjacks won three consecutive games to advance and
earn the berth to the NCAA Tournament. Head Coach Mike Adras is
hoping for a similar run starting Saturday when the Lumberjacks
travel to face Montana in the Big Sky Tournament Quarterfinals.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.
“I like playing Big Sky Tournament games in Missoula so I am excited about that aspect,” said Head Coach Mike Adras.
NAU has qualified for its 19th Big Sky Championship appearance, ninth in 11 years under Mike Adras. He has posted a 14-16 all-time mark in Big Sky Tournament play. Northern Arizona has played in the championship game eight times in school history (1979, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008). The Lumberjacks are 2-6 all-time in championship game history. NAU has claimed the Big Sky Tournament title twice (1998, 2000) to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
“It was a goal of this team when we had our first meeting in August – Big Sky,” said Adras. “It is what we were after this year. Going into it I feel I sense of accomplishment for this group of guys. Being in the Big Sky Tournament, especially for our guys not being in it last year, I think it means a lot to them.”
Senior Nick Larson and juniors Shane Johannsen and Cameron Jones are the only players in the program with Big Sky postseason experience. The three players have combined to play in seven tournament games. Larson was part of two teams that advanced to the championship game in 2006-07 and 2007-08. He started both games his sophomore season. Jones was a reserve off the bench in 2007-08, while Johannsen played in one game in 2007-08.
The Lumberjacks will face a Montana team they have struggled against lately due in large part to the play of All-Big Sky first-team selection Anthony Johnson. He has averaged 25.0 points per game against the Lumberjacks this season.
“We have not done it yet,” said Adras of stopping Johnson. “I am thinking if we can minimize him and a few others than it starts to shift in our direction. The good news is I get to try some things this week and we are going to see. We are going to come up with some things. Hopefully the better ones are the ones we execute in the game this week.”
“We have to contain those two guys Johnson and Will Cherry.”
NAU trails 56-30 all-time against Montana including a 71-57 loss in Missoula earlier this season. NAU has lost four consecutive games to the Griz. The two teams last met in the Big Sky Tournament in 2006-07 with the Lumberjacks posting a 78-71 victory in Ogden. Overall, NAU is 1-4 against Montana in the postseason. NAU has only been beaten three times by the Griz in the same season in the 1983-84 season.
The game can be seen on the internet on Big Sky Television and heard on the Lumberjack Radio Network (KAFF AM 930) and Stretch Internet.
While Adras has led his team to the Big Sky Tournament in nine of his 11 seasons, the first is the most memorable in Missoula. Entering as the No. 3 seed, NAU defeated Portland State in the quarterfinals before dropping Eastern Washington in the semis. In the finals on a neutral court, the Lumberjacks won in overtime over Cal-State Northridge behind 22 points from Adam Lopez and 20 from Big Sky Tournament MVP Ross Land.
Will the magic run of 2000 be inspiration to the Lumberjacks 10 years later? That is why they call it March Madness.