For the MSU women’s basketball team, last week’s game against Eastern Washington was one of the season highlights. For the men, their game against Eastern Washington was this season's biggest opportunity to learn.

With last Saturday’s win in Cheney, Wash., the Bobcat women are currently the Big Sky Conference leaders with a conference record of 6-1 and an overall record of 10-6. With aspirations of reaching the NCAA tournament in March, the Cats climbed back from an 11-point deficit to tie the game at the end of regulation. After ending the first overtime period still tied, the Cats finally ran past the Eagles when senior forward Madeline Smith had an offensive putback with seconds to go to give MSU the lead. Junior guard Tori Martell followed Smith up with two free throws to clinch a 89-85 victory. 

Though their record remains impressive, the Bobcats have not always played up to their talent this season. For instance, EWU is currently sitting second-to-last in the Big Sky standings and Saturday was their fifth straight loss, allowing for some to wonder how the Eags were able to take the conference leaders into double overtime. While the Bobcats maybe should have come out of Reese Court with a more convincing victory, optimism remains high as the Blue and Gold hold the best scoring margin in the conference. The Big Sky Conference preseason MVP, senior forward Fallyn Freije, has been playing excellent and should only improve as the season progresses. Check out this week’s player profile for more on Freije.

For the men, Saturday’s game hosting EWU went much worse. The Eagles, who are ranked second in the Big Sky conference, got off to a hot start from which the Bobcats could not recover. Junior guard/forward Jacob Davison led the Eagles with 26 points on the night, while MSU senior guard Harald Frey once again led the Bobcats with 19 points. The real story was on defense, where Eastern gave MSU a snapshot of the ideal brand of basketball under head coach Danny Sprinkle. The EWU defense was stout, successfully holding the Big Sky’s best three-point shooting team to 23 percent from beyond the arc and just 37 percent overall. EWU head coach Shantay Legans pointed out how a strong defensive team almost always holds the advantage, saying with their style of play, “You can shoot bad or miss some shots and still win.”

The men’s team has now lost six of their last nine games, quieting some of the excitement generated by this squad prior to the new year. Now it is up to this newly configured group to determine the story for the rest of the season. While Sprinkle will be given ample time to prove himself here at his alma mater, fans are quite anxious to see how the former three-time All-Big Sky selection will conclude his inaugural campaign back in Bozeman. Though his career as a head coach has just begun, Sprinkle’s maturity and brilliance matches that of a veteran. In post-game, he said, “Sometimes you gotta get your tail kicked to learn. It’s not fun to go through, but it’ll pay dividends come March.”

While the Bobcat men and women are trending in opposite directions in the short-term, in the long term both teams appear well positioned for success. There are plenty more games this year for both squads as they strive to obtain the goals they set out for themselves at the beginning of the season. Fans won’t want to miss out on any of the action, as the women are looking to win the conference crown and head to the big dance, while the men look to finish the first year of the Sprinkle era strong with a push towards the Big Sky tournament. The MSU women will play at home on Thursday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. against Weber State and Saturday, Jan. 25 at 2 p.m. against Idaho State. The men kickoff a three-game road trip with a game Thursday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. at Weber State. All Big Sky Conference games can be watched for free on PlutoTV. It’s time to pack the Brick! Go Cats Go!

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