At the midway point in the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball schedule, all that’s left is the race for second place.
Northern Arizona (15-3, 8-0) is four games ahead of the pack in the loss column with eight games to play, all but ensuring the Lumberjacks will host the conference tournament.
But second place is a valuable prize, too, because the top two teams get first-round byes in the Big Sky tournament. The Nos. 3 through 6 teams will have to win three games to win the automatic NCAA tournament bid.
Entering tonight’s play, five teams are within one game of each other in the battle for second. Northridge is at the bottom of the pack with a 4-4 conference record. The Matadors are chasing Montana (6-4), Montana State (6-4), Weber State (6-5) and Idaho State (5-5).
Northridge will play host to Montana tonight and Montana State on Saturday. The Matadors are at Weber State on Feb. 20 and play Idaho State in the season finale Mar. 1 at Northridge.
“I said [to the team], ‘Don’t look for any more motivational speeches from me,’ ” Matador Coach Bobby Braswell said. “If they don’t realize how important these games are themselves, God help ‘em.”
Lost weekend: If Saturday night’s all right for fighting, consider Pepperdine the punching bag of college basketball.
The Waves are 0-8 in games played on Saturday, a situation first-year Coach Lorenzo Romar has addressed without success.
“We’ve mentioned it to the players,” Romar said. “There’s not a lot you can do. We just have to find a way to get it done.”
After playing perhaps its best game of the season Friday night in an 80-65 victory over Gonzaga, Pepperdine was flat Saturday against Portland and lost, 52-49, on Chivo Anderson’s three-point basket with 26 seconds left.
Romar says playing on successive nights shouldn’t be a problem for his team any more than it is for an opponent. However, because of the Waves’ lack of experience--they have only two seniors--he said most of the players are still learning how to properly prepare for back-to-back games in the West Coast Conference.
“It’s something you go through,” he said.
Except this weekend. After playing at St. Mary’s on Friday night, the Waves have Saturday off before playing at Santa Clara on Sunday afternoon.
Three’s a charm?: Pepperdine fell to 0-6 in games decided by four points or fewer with Saturday’s loss to Portland. Two weeks ago, the Waves blew a three-point lead in the final two seconds of regulation and lost in overtime, 69-68, at Portland.
Anderson, the hero of Saturday’s game, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Pilots and Pepperdine met again in the WCC tournament at Loyola Marymount.
Of a possible third meeting, Romar said: “That would be an interesting game. You’d think if we played again, the odds would be in our favor. But you never know. [Portland] could be the team we don’t want to face.”