Sports

Matthews and Montana back in the Big Dance

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is becoming old hat for Federal Way High School graduate Virgil Matthews.

For the second straight season, Matthews and the University of Montana Grizzlies will be playing in the “Big Dance.” The Grizzlies downed Northern Arizona Wednesday night in the Big Sky Conference Tournament final, 73-60, in Flagstaff, Ariz., to earn the league’s automatic berth. Montana will find out tomorrow afternoon its opening-round opponent. Last year, the Grizzlies were a No. 16-seed and lost to the No. 1-seeded University of Washington in the first round.

Matthews is a big reason why Montana will be dancing again. The 6-foot-3 guard tallied a game-high 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field, including 4 of 4 from behind the 3-point line in the Big Sky Championship game. For his effort, he was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Matthews also had six rebounds in the victory over Northern Arizona and helped the Grizzlies dominate on the boards. Montana outrebounded the Lumberjacks 44-27 on the night. Northern Arizona won the regular-season Big Sky title and was playing on their home floor Wednesday. But Matthews and the Grizzlies weren’t intimidated.

“We thought we were the better team,” he said.

According to ESPN.com, Montana is predicted to play perrenial power North Carolina in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. The Web site has the Grizzlies as a No. 14 seed and the Tar Heels as a three.

“It’s special,” said Montana head coach Larry Krystkowiak, who is 5-0 in Big Sky tourney games. “It’s unbelievable.”

Matthews has a history of excelling in the postseason while at Federal Way. After averaging 17.1 points and 5.25 rebounds a game during the SPSL South season, he exploded in the playoffs. Matthews poured in 27.6 points, breaking the record for most points in the history of the West Central District Tournament. He was also named the Mirror’s All-City Most Valuable Player, along with Decatur’s Niko Nunogawa in 2001.

Following his Eagle days, Matthews went on to play at Centralia Community College. As a sophomore at Centralia in 2004, Matthews was named the Western Division’s Most Valuable Player after averaging 22.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists before signing with Montana.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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