North Idaho College men’s basketball coach Jared Phay has 99 career victories in five seasons.
He would like to get to 100, but not for a selfish reason. The 100th victory would put his Cardinals in the Region 18 tournament championship game.
Career victories 98 and 99, coupled with Salt Lake Community College stubbing its toe at College of Eastern Utah last weekend, means NIC will play host to the Region 18 men’s and women’s tournaments, beginning Thursday.
Both the top-seeded NIC men and second-seeded NIC women have byes into the semifinals. In a single men’s game Thursday, No. 4 College of Eastern Utah (23-6) takes on No. 5 Snow College (18-12) at 7:30 p.m. In a single women’s game Thursday, No. 4 Salt Lake Community College (16-14) faces No. 5 CEU (16-14) at 5:30.
In men’s games Friday, No. 2 SLCC (23-6) goes against No. 3 College of Southern Idaho (22-8) at 2 p.m. and NIC (27-3) meets the CEU-Snow winner at 7:30.
In women’s games Friday, top-seeded CSI (25-4) squares off against the SLCC-CEU winner at noon and NIC (23-7) takes on No. 3 Snow (17-13) at 5:30.
This is the first time NIC has won an outright conference championship under Phay. NIC shared the league title with CSI in 2005-06.
Phay expects tightly contested games.
“We’re playing as well as we have all season,” Phay said. “The tough thing is so is CSU, CEU and Salt Lake. I think all the teams will be clicking.”
NIC suffered just one league loss at home (SLCC). The other two losses were an overtime setback at CSI and a one-point decision at SLCC.
“We’re pretty excited to have the (tourney) at home,” Phay said. “I think we’ll get some energy from our crowd.”
Phay said his team must value its possessions.
“We’ve got to play every possession,” he said. “We can’t have any letups. There will be close games and it will come down to who made one more play.”
The Region 18 champ turns around and faces the Region 1 (Arizona area) champ in a playoff game Tuesday in Phoenix to decide a berth to the NJCAA tournament March 17-21 in Hutchinson, Kan.
NIC is responsible for handing conference power CSI its lone loss – a 59-58 setback Jan. 30 at NIC.
CSI has run off nine straight wins since the loss.
“That win tells our players that we can (win regionals),” NIC coach Chris Carlson said. “We really feel like we have a legitimate shot.”
But the Cardinals must be at full strength to have their best chance. Two reserves – Brigitte Boucher and Lauren Miller – missed games last weekend because of lung congestion and an injured finger, respectively.
“To win the tournament, we’ve got to be able to go deep into our bench,” Carlson said. “The last thing we need is depth issues.”
The regional winner advances to nationals, March 17-21 at Salina, Kan.