TERRY COLUMN: Treasure state basketball hits homestretch

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With all the success of the first two state tournaments of the winter, why not get ready for a few more?

Northwest Montana cleaned up in Billings at the state wrestling championships last weekend and brought home a host of trophies and medals from the state swimming championships in Great Falls.

Now, as the sun starts to peak out of its hiding spot in the sky, the focus turns to basketball with only three weeks left until the last champions are crowned.

As with wrestling and swimming, there are a few teams from the Northwest that are clear favorites and a few more that could muscle their way into the conversation.

The Glacier boys have grabbed control of the Western AA and look like one of the favorites to compete for the state title in March.

The Wolfpack, now 15-1 overall and undefeated in conference, has won its last 12 games, its only blemish coming in the first road game of the season.

Glacier is deep, talented, can shoot and has the most dominant player in the state in center Jaxen Hashley to make it all work. Hashley is averaging 16.7 points per game and a state-best 11.5 rebounds, one of just two players to average a double-double. He also averages 2.6 assists a game, which helps open up the floor for his teammates, who are making nearly 36 percent of their shots from deep this season.

The Wolfpack has also faired well against some of the state’s best this season, beating Eastern powers Bozeman and Great Falls on the road earlier this season and topping its top two contenders in the West once this season.

The Columbia Falls girls also look to be the class of Class A, steamrolling nearly everything in their path this season.

Also 15-1 overall, the Wildkats only loss this season came in a close game on the road to unbeaten Class AA Missoula Sentinel.

Much like the Glacier boys, the Columbia Falls girls strength lies in their depth. However, the Wildkats also have experience, with most of the starting group fighting to third and second place finishes in the last two seasons.

They are also able to beat teams with their tremendous height and versatility, with six players on the roster taller than 5-foot, 10-inches tall and the team shooting 46 percent from the floor and 37 percent from 3-point range.

The Wildkats have been equally dominant this season, playing only three games that they haven’t won by double digits, two of those against Class AA competition.

Bigfork is a team that has been at the top of Class B all season long, and after a strong run the last four seasons, could bring some experience in the playoffs to a class that has been up for grabs this year. As many as six teams have had a claim at the top position in Class B this season, with no team sporting fewer than three losses as we enter district playoffs this weekend.

The Vikings will be one of the favorites to take the reins as the state tournament nears, especially with a large group of players returning from a team that finished second last year.

The Ronan girls have gone unblemished through the regular season and will look to complete the season sweep, but have a tougher stretch in a Class B field that has seen an undefeated season from Colstrip and only one loss from perennial power Malta.

The Polson boys and Troy girls have also powered into championship form entering the final weeks of the season.

The championship weeks have arrived, now in basketball too.

If everything continues to play out like it has, March could be a special month for Northwest Montana.

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