What to watch for in Montana’s game against South Dakota State

By ALAN RYAN and PAUL MACKALO | Associated PressBENTON, Mont.

(AP) Coach Dave Aranda and his staff were expecting a lot of things to go right when they started the season with a win against South Dakotas power forward Aaron Harrison.

They were looking forward to seeing what they could do when the season ended against a conference foe they beat in the regular season.

But that was before the first-year coach even saw what he could do.

The second-year head coach and his team have gone from a team that didn’t win a game in March to one that won eight straight.

They are 9-0, have won eight of 10 and are currently No. 1 in the Big Sky Conference, with five wins coming by an average of 10.7 points.

The Golden Eagles have beaten two teams ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll (No. 4 Baylor and No. 12 Washington State) and lost to the No. 9-ranked Huskies in the season finale.

Aranda and the Golden Eagles, who finished their regular season in fourth place in the conference standings, now face their biggest test of the season on Friday night when they face the No, 4-ranked St. Francis (N.J.)

Gaels.

St. Francis is a top-25 team in the country.

The Gaels are 5-2 overall and 6-1 in the Mountain West Conference.

The two teams meet on Friday for the first time in the NCAA tournament.

St. Frances has won nine of its past 11 games against Iowa State and has won the last five matchups.

The Golden Eagles (9-2) have won 10 of their last 11 games.

St Francis (4-10) has lost seven of its last eight.

The first meeting between the teams was Dec. 2, 2014, with the Golden Eagle leading 20-15 in the first quarter.

That game was played at the Drake Energy Center.

St Francis is also a top 10 team in college basketball.

The school has a 6-2 record against the Top 25 in the AP poll and has been to the Final Four twice.

St Frances won a conference tournament championship in 2013, beating Texas Southern 77-67.

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