WASHINGTON vs. MONTANA

This Thursday at around 12:15 or so (PST), Washington's first-ever #1-seed in the NCAA Basketball Tournament officially becomes a moot point. A historical footnote. A camp fable to be savored while roasting Gold marshmallows over a Purple fire. For when the Huskies tip it off with Montana at Taco Bell Arena in Boise, it's no longer a question of seed vs. seed.


#1 WASHINGTON (27-5) vs. #16 MONTANA (18-12)
Taco Bell Arena, Boise, ID
Thursday, March 17 (@12:15 PM PST - CBS)
Last Meeting: 11/28/95 – at Montana 67, UW 56
Series Overall: Washington leads, 39-9

From here on, it's simply survive-and-advance.

And right out of the gate, they have to face Coach "K".

In this case, it's Montana coach Larry Krystkowiak, who guided his alma mater back to the NCAAs in his first season. The legendary "Kryskow", who remains the only Grizzly to ever have his jersey retired, doesn't think his young team will be intimidated by sharing the CBS stage with 27-5 Washington. "We've come too far to not go out with a strong effort," Krystkowiak said on Monday. "I believe we can make a game of it."

Krystkowiak assumed his team would get one of the lowest seeds, but is quite happy with the way his Grizzlies were assigned. "The biggest thing for us was staying out west," he said. "There was speculation that we'd have to play Illinois in Indianapolis."

It's been ten years since they've last met on the court. But these two institutions are no strangers, with the Huskies owning a 39-9 edge in the overall series. However, the Grizzlies have won the last three meetings (and five of the last six). In fact, Krystkowiak played in two of those Montana wins – including a memorable one at Missoula in 1985 when the benches emptied and police had to restore order. The Grizzlies' all-time leading scorer and rebounder remembers that "it was a heated deal. One of our guys ended up in the stands with one of theirs".

Like Washington, Montana likes to rotate a lot of players, with nine guys averaging 15 minutes per game. Leading scorer Kamarr Davis (14.8 points per game) is Montana's only senior. The Big Sky tournament MVP missed eight games due to academics, and the Grizzlies went 4-4 without him. The 6-7 Davis is a 255-pound load who likes to post up, and shoots 52 percent from the floor. "He's a stud," Lorenzo Romar says of Davis. "A wide body that is strong." Sophomore forward Matt Dlouhy may be Montana's best outside threat. The former walk-on was the Big Sky's third-best three-point shooter (.408), and averaged 10 points per game in conference play. Dlouhy returns to his home state for this NCAA experience – the Coeur d'Alene native was Idaho's Class 5A Player of the Year in 2002.

Shooting guard Kevin Criswell (12.4 ppg) has a staph infection in his leg, but should be good to go. Though Criswell has had his problems (.297) behind the arc, he is adept at getting to the free-throw line. The 6-2 junior leads the team with 17 double-figure scoring games. True freshman point guard Matt Martin (9.2 ppg) hit four-of-five three-pointers in the Big Sky semi-final win over Montana State. Martin ranked seventh in conference assists in his first season, and is Montana's best free-throw shooter.

6-10 center John Seyfert (5.3 ppg) has turned in five double-doubles during his junior campaign. Seyfert, who played for Romar at St. Louis as a freshman and transferred back to his home state when Romar took the Washington job, is the only Grizzly to start every game this season.

Montana's top two bench players are both Washingtonians. Federal Way grad Virgil Matthews tallied six dimes in 20 minutes in the championship win over Weber State after dishing out eight against Montana State in the Big Sky semi-final. Matthews JuCo'd at Centralia College, averaging 22 points per game. Yakima (West Valley) freshman forward Andrew Strait has ten double-figure scoring outings this season, including a season-best 22 against Northern Arizona. Straight does his damage on the inside, owning a better FG percentage (.585) than free-throw (.552).
PROBABLE STARTERS

MONTANA
F Matt Dlouhy 6-6 SO 9.1 (ppg), 4.5 (rpg)
F Kamarr Davis 6-7 SR 14.8, 5.9
C John Seyfert 6-10 JR 5.3, 3.9
G Kevin Criswell 6-2 JR 12.4, 4.2
G Matt Martin 6-1 FR 9.2, 2.2, 3.5 (APG)

WASHINGTON
F Bobby Jones 6-6 JR 11.1, 5.5
F Mike Jensen 6-8 JR 6.4, 4.3
G Tre Simmons 6-5 SR 16.3, 5.0
G Nate Robinson 5-8 JR 16.7, 3.8, 4.6 (APG)
G Will Conroy 6-2 SR 9.2, 3.4, 6.4 (APG)
GAME NOTES: The Grizzlies figure to take a little air out of the ball, averaging less than 70 points per game. They are also turnover-prone (17 per contest), and so the less they feel of Washington's pressure defense the better … Montana has played an NCAA Tournament game in Boise before, losing 78-68 to Florida State in the first round of the 1994 West regional … Krystkowiak is the second coach to guide the Grizzlies to the NCAAs in his first season. Current Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor turned the trick for Montana in 1992 … Washington is up against pretty dismal conference history when it comes to trying to uphold their No. 1 seed. Only two of the 12 Pac-10 teams that have been No. 1's have advanced to the Final Four (Arizona 1988, UCLA 1995). And only the Bruins won a championship with it … In the Huskies' five defeats this season, they've attempted 93 less free throws than their opponents …
Rick Samek can be reached at rsamek1@comcast.net

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