West Plains, Mo. – The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Basketball team will face a couple of well-established, nationally-ranked opponents when they host the Hirsch Feed & Farm Supply New Year's Classic tournament Friday and Saturday at the West Plains Civic Center.
The Grizzlies, who are coming off their annual winter break with an 11-4 record, will face the No. 15 Indian Hills Community College Warriors from Ottumwa, Iowa, at 7 p.m. Friday and the No. 9 Coffeyville Community College Red Ravens from Kansas at 5 p.m. Saturday.
In the tournament's other games, Coffeyville will face Faith Prep, West Memphis, Arkansas, at 5 p.m. Friday. Saturday, Indian Hills and Faith Prep will play at 3 p.m.
"It's a big weekend for us. Hosting two top 15 teams is a big challenge and a great opportunity," Grizzly Basketball Head Coach Chris Popp said. "These two may honestly be even better than their ranking. We will have to play very well both nights."
Players returned this week to begin preparing for the challenge ahead.
"We have been back for three days of practice since the break. We have been consistent with our message in those three days. Our success is going to be dictated by our toughness and defense. Those two aspects are closely related and absolutely the key for us this weekend. I believe our team can score with anyone. We have to get stops," Popp said.
A history of impressive games
The Grizzlies have played some impressive contests against both programs throughout the teams' histories, many of which came down to the wire with last-second shots.
One of the most historic contests came during the 1998-99 season when the Grizzlies ended the Warriors' 89-game winning streak with a 81-70 victory in the Physical Therapy Specialists Clinic Basketball Classic at the civic center.
At the time, the streak was the longest in collegiate history at any level, eclipsing the 88-game streak established by the UCLA Bruins in the 1970s.
"A year ago, we felt like we let one slip away with Indian Hills, who were at No. 1 and had an undefeated regular season last year," Popp said. "We led by as many as 17 points in the game that will be forever known for the hour delay due to clock issues. Following that delay, we faltered to lose by 2.
"This year, we go into this one as the underdogs again. Other than our game against No. 3 College of Southern Idaho, I don't think our guys have entered a game with the feeling. I am anxious to see how our guys respond," he added.
A look through historical records show the Grizzlies have a winning record against Coffeyville, 10-4. The Warriors, however, have proven to be a formidable foe, defeating the Grizzlies 24 out of their 29 meetings over the years.
"In our first game against Coffeyville this year, our mentality was all wrong. We have come a long way since then," the coach said.
"They are long, athletic and very deep on the bench. They throw waves of Division I talent at you. We will have to handle their pressure better, take care of the ball and toughen up on the glass. Coach (Jay) Herkelman is a juco coaching legend. They will have them ready," Popp said.
"These will be two high level, high intensity games," he added.
Tickets for the tournament games are available in advance at the Drago College Store in Hass-Darr Hall or online at https://www.msuwpgrizzlies.com/general/tickets. They also may be purchased at the door.
For more information about the Grizzly Basketball program, visit www.msuwpgrizzlies.com or call 417-255-7991.
For complete statistics of the Grizzlies' games this season, visit http://www.njcaa.org/sports/mbkb/2018-19/div1/teams/MissouriStateUniversityWestPlains.