CALDWELL — The College of Idaho men's basketball team has clinched its spot in the NAIA Division II national tournament, booked its travel to Missouri and scheduled a viewing party for Wednesday's selection show.
But the third-ranked Coyotes (27-5) have one more bit of business to handle before they start focusing on a national title: Winning the Cascade Conference Tournament.
College of Idaho hosts Northwest Christian (18-12) in the tournament final at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the J.A. Albertson Activities Center on its Caldwell campus. The Coyotes, the league's regular-season champions, are seeking their first tournament crown since 2004.
"We're putting a lot on this game. First of all, winning and the success that we've had is a habit," said first-year coach Scott Garson. "We want to continue playing well."
The Coyotes are 16-0 at home.
"It's another chance to prove we are the best team in the Cascade Conference. To be able to win the conference regular season outright and the conference tournament is a special thing," Garson said.
One he hopes can springboard the Coyotes to a strong showing at the 32-team national tournament in Point Lookout, Mo., just outside Branson, which begins March 12. The Nos. 1, 2 and 4 teams in the country lost over the weekend, giving the College of Idaho a chance to secure a high seed at nationals.
Northwest Christian, the conference tournament's No. 6 seed, secured a spot at nationals, too, by advancing to the title game. The league gets two automatic bids - one for the winner of the regular season and one for the winner of the tournament. If the same team wins both, the tournament runner-up grabs the second berth.
The Beacons are coached by former Oregon All-American, NBA top-10 draft pick and Idaho Stampede player Luke Jackson, who is in his first season at the Eugene-based school. Northwest Christian has not won a conference title in any sport since joining the league in 2009.
This year, the Coyotes defeated Northwest Christian 71-62 in Caldwell and 74-72 in Eugene on a last-second basket. "They're going to be fired up for another opportunity at us," Garson said.
Tickets are $12 (reserved, limited availability) and $7 (general admission). Fans with cash or check can purchase tickets at the J.A. Albertson Activities Center or by calling 459-5223. Fans using a credit card can purchase at Sterry Hall (Floor 3) or by calling 459-5917.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @murphsturph