MISSOULA -- The analogy of a "Heavyweight Fight" is so overused in the world of sports journalism. It simply is a lazy habit for sports writers who have no desire to think anew. Call me lazy, but I think in the Big Sky semifinal between Montana and Eastern Washington fits the bill. Montana was surely the favorite, but Eastern Washington had something to prove. And, for 38 minutes of action, the Eagles proved more than capable. Using a terrific game plan, the tempo-free lovin Eagles gave top-seeded Montana everything it could handle. But, in the end, we were reminded why Montana finished 15-1 in the league.
The Grizzly crowd was more than rowdy to begin the festivities. Being just two games from a berth in March Madness, the Adams Center was rocking. Lowly fourth-seed Eastern Washington was just the appetizer before the full-course rematch with second-seed Weber State in the Final. The appetizer was tough to keep down, but keep down the Grizzlies did. Trailing 62-61 with under two minutes remaining, Montana exploded for the next eight points and assured itself a spot in the Title Game.
It's amazing how, when we compare how short the 40 minutes of a basketball game is compared to how long and hard these players and coaches work. Time ran out for Eastern Washington on Tuesday night, despite three heroic performances from Eastern Seniors' Cliff Colimon, Laron Griffin, and Cliff Ederaine. Colimon poured in 27 points; Griffin had 16 points and 15 rebounds; Ederaine had 16 points on just 11 shot attempts. In the end, it wasn't enough.
Kareem Jamar dominated the second half, scoring 17 of his 18 points, to lead the Grizzlies from the brink. Montana trailed by as much as 11 in the first half. By the time the clock was about to strike triple zeroes, the Griz had turned that score upside-down. Will Cherry was key, as he always is, in the Montana attack. Cherry finished with 16 points. The Montana crowd was rocking and the Grizzlies moved to a single win between them and their fifth trip to the Big Dance since 2002, the most in the Big Sky over that period of time.
The stage is set for Weber State-Montana III tomorrow night from Missoula. If tonight's terrific basketball was any sort of teaser, the Big Sky is about to go out with a bang.