The Big Sky opener against Montana State on Monday will be Flagstaff High School Night. All FHS students, faculty and staff who show FHS identification will receive tickets for just $5. Accompanying guests of FHS students, faculty and staff may also purchase tickets for $5 to the game. Tipoff against Montana State is at 6:35 p.m. in the Walkup Skydome. The first 1,000 fans at Monday night's game will also receive a 2012-13 NAU basketball schedule magnet courtesy of Papa John's. For more information on Flagstaff High School Night, click here or call 928-523-8766.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona men's basketball team faces its first test of league play Monday against Montana State in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams.
"We are excited to finally start the Big Sky Conference slate of games," said Head Coach Jack Murphy. "We are thankful the games are at home and that Montana State and Montana have to come down to Flagstaff to play us first."
Brad Huse's Bobcats (2-5) return two starters and five letter winners from last year's team, which finished 7-9 in Big Sky play and 12-17 overall. Senior guard Xavier Blount is one of two seniors on the MSU team. He led the Bobcats with an average of 11.7 points per game in 2011-12, scoring in double figures 11 times, including five games with at least 21 points.
"Montana State is an athletic team that has had some bad luck with injuries," said Murphy. "They are a very good team that is well coached. They were picked in the upper half of the league in the preseason polls. We are going to be ready for a battle. It is their first conference game as well and everyone wants to get off to a good start."
Murphy's Lumberjacks have not played since Dec. 5, a stretch of 12 days entering Monday's 6:35 p.m. tipoff in the Walkup Skydome. The team has used the time to concentrate on academics while resting after a busy first month and a half of the season.
"We want to be rested but at the same time we want to keep our edge," said Murphy.
The Lumberjacks are 3-5 on the season after eight games. Freshman guard DeWayne Russell, who is seventh in the country in scoring among freshmen at 17.1 points per game, leads the Lumberjacks in scoring.
"I think we are really prepared," said senior guard Stallon Saldivar, who needs just five assists to reach 400 for his career. "We had a few days off for finals and we are getting right back into it. The preseason helped us by playing some big schools to see what we are capable of doing. We learned a lot about ourselves. I think we are ready to play Big Sky basketball."
NAU leads the all-time series 46-43 but has lost the last two meetings with Montana State. Prior to a 74-72 loss to the Bobcats in Flagstaff last season, the Lumberjacks had won 10 in a row at home in the series. The Bobcats swept both games against the Lumberjacks in 2011-12, including the season finale that marked the 15th straight conference loss for NAU.
"We approach each game one game at a time," said Saldivar. "We play the non-conference to see where we are at and find out who we are as a team. When we come into conference, we know how to play NAU basketball. It is a new era and I think this first game will start our conference season well. We want to start off 1-0."
Murphy says the start of the game with his team coming off a long layoff will be important in deciding the contest.
"It is important that we come out prepared and energized," said Murphy. "Both teams are coming off a long layoff so I am sure the early play will not be the prettiest brand of basketball. But it should be fun."
The game will be broadcast on FOX Sports Arizona Plus (DISH: 9516, DTV: 695/446), FOX College Sports and NAU TV (SUDD: 4/104). Fans can listen to the game on 105.1 The Big Talker locally and online via the Big Talker website and the Big Talker mobile app.