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UM rugby player Ben Johnson passes the ball during practice.
UM rugby preps for week of games out west

After a pair of early season losses, the University of Montana Jesters will leave town on a week-long tour down the West Coast that starts Saturday in Spokane for the 20th anniversary of Fools Fest.

The Jesters, UM's club rugby team, will be one of several Montana Rugby Union teams appearing at the event. Fools Fest games are usually shorter than a standard 80-minute rugby match, said Jester Andy Trujillo, and that's OK since the whole day will be filled with rugby.

But Spokane is just the first stop in a gauntlet of games for the Jesters, with short stays scheduled in Seattle, Wash., Portland and Eugene, Ore., San Francisco, and Palo Alto, Calif. The results from all the matches slated for spring break week won't have an impact on the Jesters' league record of 0–2, Trujillo said, but they do have a purpose.

"We're going to get out there and get a bunch of rugby in our bellies," said Trujillo, a junior on the team who plays flanker, a forward, all-around position on the field. "In rugby, you can only learn so much in practice; you really learn it by being in it. You have a core group of guys on tour and they grow together."

 
 
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UM student Brian Labbe. (photo by Ben Coulter)
The quarterback scrambles, his right flanked by two blitzers. He's small, at just 5-foot-9, but elusive. He dodges a would-be tackler, buying the time he needs before hitting a streaking receiver down the right sideline. The receiver pulls his feet down in bounds to make the catch before sliding to the turf of Washington-Grizzly Stadium, home of the Montana Grizzly football team.

But this isn't the two-time national champion Grizzlies and there aren't 25,000 cheering fans.

The stands on this Sunday afternoon are mostly barren — as they have been all winter — save 15 or 20 dedicated fans. They've come to see their friends or family during the postseason run to the intramural flag football championship.

Sunday marked the end of the fourth season of UM Campus Rec's winter flag football season. The league consisted of teams of four on half of a field and included 20 men's teams and eight co-rec teams.

Montana has hosted intramural football for years, said Intramural Programs Manager Natalie Hiller-Claridge, but leagues have historically played during the fall. After interest built in 2007 for winter ball, Hiller-Claridge talked with the athletics department about securing a time slot for the games on the real football field. Field space is limited in the early spring because of other intramural sports and weather conditions, she said, and Washington-Grizzly Stadium is really the only place left to play.

The athletics department approved the usage.

 
 
The University of Montana will add softball to its Division-I sports lineup, UM athletics officials confirmed Monday.

While the funding isn't yet in place for the new program — an estimated $500,000 a year — the University tentatively plans to suit its first team in the spring of 2014, said Jean Gee, Montana's associate athletics director.

The addition comes as part of the athletic department's gender equality plan in keeping with Title IX of the Education Amendments. By offering softball, Montana would continue to qualify as Title IX compliant.

To receive federal funding, a school must comply with one of the three prongs of Title IX, said Lucy France, director of equal opportunity at the University. By adding a women's sport in high demand, Montana will continue to meet the terms of the third prong and receive funds.

The third prong requires that the institution fully accommodates the interests of the underrepresented sex. As more men currently participate in Montana athletics — roughly a 3:2 ratio — the third prong refers to females.
 
 
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UM senior Sarah Ena after the loss. (Greg Lindstrom/Montana Kaimin)
Spokane, WASH. — The grizzly is one of the largest bear breeds in the wild. On the court Saturday, they looked and played a much smaller game than their Bruin counterparts.

A relentless defense and massive lineup helped the UCLA Bruins shake off a pesky Lady Griz basketball team 55-47 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at McCarthey Athletic Center.

The third-seeded Bruins overwhelmed No. 14 Montana with defensive pressure to take the ball out of the Lady Griz shooters' hands and slow the pace of the game to a crawl at times. UCLA, which leads the Pac-10 Conference in turnovers forced and steals, was at its best on Saturday. The team swiped balls from shooters and forced precarious passes on the way to causing 25 Grizzly turnovers.

"You feel like you're just falling apart but they do that every game," said Montana head coach Robin Selvig.

Along with taking the ball away repeatedly, the persistent D kept Montana (18–15 in the Big Sky) from setting up its offense. A full-court press often left the Grizzlies with half a shot clock or less to work with once they arrived in the offensive zone.

 
 

Click here to watch AJ Versus curling

In this week's episode of AJ Versus, the Kaimin made its less-than triumphant return to Glacier Ice Rink for another winter-sport challenge. We strapped our sliders on to curl with the Missoula Curling Club.

So far, each one of my tests of sporting prowess has involved only myself and my own natural skill. I think it's about time you the reader appreciate that I'm not the only one with a pen behind my ear, a notebook in my back pocket and a complete lack of athletic ability.

So let me formally introduce the Montana Kaimin's curling lineup: news editor Joe Pavlish, photographer Steel Brooks, fellow sports reporter Taylor W. Anderson and myself.

Now that I've thoroughly inflated our egos, I'll get to the action.

On a fateful Saturday night — the weekly meeting time of Missoula's best (only?) curlers — we gingerly stepped out onto the ice. This particular night happened to be tutorial night for anyone looking to get involved. Luckily for us, that meant an intro to the basics and a bit more knowledge than we'd already gathered from watching the Canadians and Swedes in the Olympics last year.
 
 
It's tough to come back when your basketball team allows almost 50 points in the first half, Wayne Tinkle said.

And his team couldn't.

The Montana Grizzly men's team came up short in their comeback effort, falling to Duquesne University 87–76 in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational tournament Wednesday night. The loss at home eliminated the Griz from the invitational, ending their season with a 21–11 record.

The Grizzlies allowed a season-high 87 points to Duquesne (19–12), a team known for its fast-paced offense and bountiful scoring performances. Tinkle, Montana's fifth year coach, said he was concerned with his team's focus going into the game. The Grizzlies lost the Big Sky Championship a week ago to Northern Colorado and with it a berth into the NCAA Tournament. With their primary goal out of reach, Tinkle said the team felt like it was in limbo.

Those misgivings became transformed into bleak reality when the Dukes pounded an uncharacteristically soft Grizzly defense for 49 points in the first half — a mark they held opponents under in six games this season. Montana battled with a more even effort after intermission, narrowing a 49–35 halftime gap down to as low as six points.

But in the end, the hot shooting Dukes ran away with it.
 
 
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Kareem Jamar. Photo by Greg Lindstrom/Montana Kaimin.
Despite missing out on an NCAA Tournament berth, there will be postseason basketball for the Montana Grizzly men's team.

The Grizzlies (12–4 in conference, 21–10) accepted a bid on Sunday to the College Basketball Invitational and will host a first-round game tonight at 7 against Duquesne University.

The CBI tournament, created following the 2008 men's college basketball season, gathers 16 teams that were not selected for the NCAA Tournament or the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). After losing the Big Sky Conference championship game to Northern Colorado last week, Montana's shot at the NCAA tourney disappeared and the team set its sights on smaller invite-only competition.

"I'm still a little upset over that Northern Colorado deal," Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said of his team's 65–60 loss in Greeley, Colo. "It was a disappointing end to the year, but we have got to move forward because we do still have games. We need to be excited because it is postseason play."

The CBI opener gives Montana another shot to play in front of its home crowd. In Dahlberg Arena this season, the Grizzlies posted an impressive 13–1 record.


 
 
AJ Versus Lacrosse
Click on above image for video.
In this week's rendition of AJ Versus, the Kaimin got knocked around by the Montana club lacrosse team, proving once again that reporters aren't suited for the field.

Many of you casual sports fans may wonder what happens to Washington-Grizzly Stadium after the football season, and even if you don't, just shut up and humor me for a second.

When football hits the offseason, Montana lacrosse kicks into gear. I have to admit, lacrosse is a sport that has flown under my radar; I really know nothing about the game, and it shows.

Out on the turf of Wa-Griz, Montana assistant lacrosse coach Will Freihofer helps deck me out in pads that he ordered his players to let me borrow. I grab a stick with a little net thingy on the end and try and carry the ball around. This proves insanely difficult, as I'm not doing enough "cradling" or "rocking" or something like that.

Whatever. Why walk when you can run, I figure, and jump right into the action. The team and I decide on a little simulated game play. A defender and a goalie stand between me and my goal.

 
 
Last night, Devon Beitzel showed why he's the Big Sky MVP.

The Northern Colorado guard hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock running out to put the Bears up by seven with less than a minute to play. Beitzel, a senior, scored 27 points, including five clutch free throws in the final moments to lead Northern Colorado to a 65–60 victory on Wednesday and the team's first berth into the NCAA Tournament.

Beitzel didn't shoot particularly well from the field, just 38 percent, but scored more than half his points from the free- throw line, a place where the Grizzlies (12–4 in conference, 21–10) sent Northern Colorado over and over again in the second half of the Big Sky Conference Championship game.

With the victory at home in Greeley, Colo., the tournament-host Bears (13–3 in conference, 21–10) will represent the Big Sky Conference at the NCAA Tournament, which kicks off next week.
 
 
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Grizzly Shawn Stockton. (Photo by Ben Coulter)
It was a tale of two halves for the Montana Grizzlies in Tuesday night's Big Sky Conference tournament semifinals in Greeley, Colo.

Brian Qvale and Will Cherry helped the Grizzlies overcome a sleepy offensive first half and drop Weber State 57–40, ending the Wildcats' season for the second straight year. The teams met in the conference championship game last season when a Montana comeback upset the No. 1 ranked Wildcats 66–65.

The victory moved second-seeded Montana (12–4 in conference, 21–9) into the Big Sky Conference tournament finals tonight at 7 against conference host Northern Colorado, who ran past No. 4 Northern Arizona 73–70.

Qvale and Cherry each scored 16 points as Montana put together a 45-point second half to erase a first-half nightmare that saw the Griz score just 12 points. Luckily for Montana, Weber wasn't putting up big numbers either.

The Grizzlies held No. 3 Weber State scoreless for the first 7:40 of the game, a feat that would normally put a team well out in front. But Montana failed to take advantage of Weber's sluggish start, scoring just seven points during the stretch.