In the dead of
winter in Missoula, Mont., the best place to warm up is at Dahlberg Arena, home
of Montana's red-hot team, the Griz. The team's nickname is the Grizzlies, but
call them that in Missoula and you might as well have OUT-OF-TOWNER stamped on
If you ever get
out that way, try to make it to Dahlberg for Spud Night. That's when fans bring
potatoes to be donated to a local food bank in return for free french fries at
a Missoula restaurant. The Griz collected about half a ton of spuds on Spud
Night last Thursday and celebrated the occasion by whipping Idaho 73-58. Two
nights later they beat Boise State 53-48 to improve to 6-0 in the Big
Sky-Conference and 17-1 overall, the best start in the school's history.
But be sure you
get to Dahlberg early. The 9,000-seat arena fills up fast, with fans sitting so
close to the sidelines that they can touch their heroes—and roll the occasional
potato across the floor during timeouts. Missoulians are crazy about the Griz,
which is a major reason why Montana is 264-42 at home since 1971.
only game in town," says first-year coach Blaine Taylor, a Missoula native.
"It's not like Los Angeles, where you have the Lakers, the Clippers. UCLA,
USC and on and on. This is Missoula. Around here, we are the Lakers."
(Taylor could have said the same for the women's team at Montana. The Lady
Griz, led by forward Shannon Cate, have been among the NCAA's top 10 in
attendance for each of the last three seasons.)
It helps that the
Griz are good, and have been so for two decades. Montana's only losing season
since 1971-72 was '77-78, when it forfeited 11 of its 18 wins for using an
Taylor, a former
Montana point guard, was the last player Jud Heathcote recruited for the Griz
before Heathcote left in 1976 to coach Michigan State. "Can you believe
that Jud wanted to coach Magic Johnson instead of me?" Taylor says. Taylor
has six Montana-born players on his roster, including 6'11" senior center
Daren Engellant, who is from tiny Geraldine (pop. 350) and is the Griz's
leading scorer (14.5 points per game) and rebounder(8.4).
all-senior starting lineup also includes guard Roger Fasting, whom Taylor
describes as the glue of the team, and small forward Delvon Anderson, a junior
college transfer from San Francisco, whose arrival last season helped Montana
reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in 16 years.
The Griz may be
headed back there this season. But to fully appreciate this team, you have to
watch it play in Missoula. You'll walk out into the Montana winter with a warm
Late Bloomer in