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College Basketball
Phil Taylor
February 03, 1992
Griz Biz
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February 03, 1992

College Basketball

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Griz Biz

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 your forehead.

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.

"We're the 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 ineligible player.

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).

Montana's 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 feeling.

Late Bloomer in Raleigh

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