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December 18, 2012

Men’s Basketball Hosts Big Sky Favorite Montana Wednesday

NAU Game Notes vs. Montana (PDF)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Coming off a win in their Big Sky Conference opener against Montana State, the Lumberjacks will quickly turn their attention to the Montana Grizzlies who visit the Walkup Skydome for a 6:35 p.m. tipoff Wednesday night.

"We are very excited because we get to test out where we are at," said senior guard Gabe Rogers, who is nine points from reaching the 1,000-point milestone for his career. "They have been struggling a bit but they have their main guy back. They came off a heart-breaking loss so they are going to come in here ready to roll. Coach Tinkle is a good coach and they are going to be ready to play."

Montana, who was the preseason favorite in the Big Sky media and coaches polls, is 4-4 on the season after a double overtime loss at home to South Dakota State on Saturday in Missoula. Senior guard Will Cherry, who suffered a foot injury earlier this fall, returned to action against SDSU and had two points and four rebounds in 13 minutes of play. He was named to the 2012-13 College Insider Lou Henson Preseason All-America team.

"They have been successful throughout the years and have a winning mentality with their program," said Head Coach Jack Murphy, who earned his first career Big Sky win on Monday. "It is always a challenge when you play winners and the Montana Grizzlies in this conference are winners."

Montana leads the all-time series with the Lumberjacks 59-31 but is just 24-19 on the road in Flagstaff. The Griz have won seven of the last eight meetings in the series, including both matchups last season. NAU last defeated Montana in 2010-11 with a 70-53 victory in Flagstaff.

NAU snapped its 15-game losing streak in conference play with the win over Montana State, the last of several losing streaks that carried into this season.

"It was very important," said Rogers about ending the Big Sky losing streak. "We came into the year with a whole bunch of negative streaks. It felt very good to get rid of the final streak and get the monkey off of our backs."

The Lumberjacks hope to start a winning streak against Montana. Despite posting four wins on the season, one short of the total from last season, the Lumberjacks have yet to win two in a row this season.

"We have responded well after losses this year and it is our job to handle success and see how we respond after a win," said Murphy. "We have not been able to get a two-game winning streak yet. It is something we are looking forward to doing Wednesday night."

Murphy added senior guard Stallon Saldivar and junior forward Max Jacobsen in the starting lineup against the Bobcats. It was a change that paid off with quick dividends in the contest.

"We feel Stallon is one of our best players as far his passing and creativity with the basketball," said Murphy. "He is a solid defender and a good rebounder. So having him out there really helps take off some of the pressure on DeWayne (Russell) and Gabe."

Jacobsen had a big game against the Bobcats, doubling his career high with 22 points. It was the third time he had reset his career high this season. The Lake Oswego, Ore., product is now leading the Big Sky Conference in field goal percentage at 61.2 percent. He has averaged 16.0 points over the last two games while shooting 14-for-22 from the field with 19 rebounds.

"Max down in the low post is one of our better scorers and rebounders in that area," said Murphy. "He responded well last night."

One of the early successful traits for the team this season has been their ability to share the basketball. Russell (4.0) and Saldivar (3.5) both rank among the top assist leaders in the Big Sky as NAU is the only school with two players in the top five in the league in assists. The Lumberjacks rank first overall in the Big Sky Conference with 15.6 assists per game.

"We trust each other so much," said Russell. "We are just playing basketball because everyone is so unselfish on the team. Sometimes it might be Gabe who has 30 points or Max with his 22 points. It does not matter."

The Lumberjacks are 4-1 when they record 19 or more assists in a game and 0-4 when they have 18 or less this season.

"It starts in the defensive end with stops and rebounding," said Murphy. "When we get stops and rebound, we are able to run and I feel when we are our in transition is when we are at our best."

The game will be broadcast on FOX Sports Arizona Plus, FOX College Sports and NAU TV. 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.

Wednesday night is Coconino Community College Night. CCC students, faculty and staff with CCC identification will receive free admission and $5 tickets will also be available for purchase by all accompanying guests of Coconino Community College students, faculty and staff.  For more information on Coconino Community College Night, click here or call 928-523-8766. To learn more about the CCC to NAU program, click here.

Season tickets are still available and make a great holiday gift! For information on season tickets, click here or call 928-523-5353. To purchase single game tickets for either game, click here or call 928-523-5661.