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March 8, 2006

Montana wins Big Sky championship

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Jordan Hasquet had 20 points and 13 rebounds as Montana beat Northern Arizona 73-60 on its home floor to win the Big Sky Conference championship and an NCAA tournament bid Wednesday night.

The second-seeded Grizzlies (23-6) are heading to the NCAAs for the second consecutive season and the seventh time overall. Grizzlies coach Larry Krystkowiak, a Montana alum, improved to 5-0 in Big Sky tournament games.

Virgil Matthews led Montana with 21 points.

Tyrone Bazy had 16 points and Steven Sir added 13 for top-seeded NAU (21-10), which is guaranteed an NIT berth as the Big Sky's regular-season champion.

This was the third meeting between the Grizzlies and the Lumberjacks. They split two regular-season games, with NAU overcoming a 19-point deficit to beat Montana 83-80 Jan. 19 in Flagstaff. The Grizzlies won the rematch 96-83 Feb. 27 in Missoula.

Northern Arizona had won 11 straight games in Walkup Skydome. But the Grizzlies weren't intimidated by a vocal crowd or affected by Flagstaff's 7,000-foot altitude.

Late in the first half, Montana broke the game open with a 12-0 run to take a 32-21 lead. The pivotal play came when Northern Arizona's Ruben Boykin Jr. blew a fast-break dunk that would have given the Lumberjacks the lead. After that blunder, the Grizzlies ran off 10 points in 2:16, with seven coming from Matthews.

One night after they scored 98 points against Sacramento State, the Lumberjacks went cold. Senior Kelly Golob, the No. 3 scorer in school history, had more fouls (three) than field goals (two). He went 2-for-8 from the floor.

NAU's missed shots turned into Montana rebounds; the Grizzlies outrebounded NAU 21-11 in the first half and stretched the gap to 33-15 midway through the second half.

NAU scored eight of the first 10 points of the second half to pull within 38-33 and ignite the Skydome crowd. But the Grizzlies answered with an 11-0 run, and the Lumberjacks never mounted another serious threat.

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