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The Front Row with JASON ELLIOTT December 8, 2010

| December 8, 2010 8:00 PM

It's never too early to start thinking about all those gifts that could be waiting after the holiday season.

With the college bowl season getting going at full strength the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, a three-day window of high school basketball should help fill the void left by a bowl-less season for some of the Northwest football teams.

AS THE doors open on the third annual Coeur d'Alene Holiday Inn Express Invitational at North Idaho College, the tournament will have a different look on the girls side than in previous years as the eight teams will play a true tournament instead of a round-robin format.

The six boys teams will still play against predetermined opponents, with a couple defending state champions in the mix in Post Falls (5A) and Priest River (3A).

Coeur d'Alene, Lewiston and Lapwai advanced to their respective title games in girls play last year, with the Vikings beating the Bengals in the 5A title game and Lapwai losing in overtime to conference rival Clearwater Valley in 1A Division I.

Lake City could be a team to watch as the Timberwolves continue to find ways to win games early in the season.

Looking at the boys schedule, Priest River will be tested by Coeur d'Alene and Lake City in the first two days of the tournament.

Anyone wanting a sneak preview of the Priest River-Coeur d'Alene matchup can go to Elmer Jordan Court on Friday when they play a nonleague game.

TOURNAMENTS WILL also be held in Spirit Lake and Kellogg for the first time as teams attempt to fit some games in during a two-week break from the books.

Both Lakeland and St. Maries travel to the Freeman Invitational on Dec. 28-29 before most teams get into the brunt of the league play.

Both NIC men's and women's basketball teams have enjoyed a bit of success as both carry an unbeaten record into the start of Scenic West Athletic Conference play on Friday night.

While it may be tough to win at Rolly Williams Court for opposing schools - it can be the same way when the Cardinals come into town - especially this season with both teams being ranked highly in the current NJCAA polls.

As I've come to notice, the rankings really don't mean much when it comes to getting into the postseason. Even with a win in the SWAC tournament, it won't guarantee a trip to the national tournament for the men, while the champion on the women's side gets an automatic bid.

BUT FOR those fans that can't wait until the start of next year for some quality basketball, you're in luck.

Due to slick conditions, the Lewiston-Coeur d'Alene girls basketball game was rescheduled for Thursday night in Coeur d'Alene. If last season's state 5A championship game was any indication, you may want to arrive early and plan to stay late.

As the calendar turns to the new year, the action on the local basketball courts will heat up.

And most likely, not cool down until the spring.

Jason Elliott is a sports writer for the Coeur d'Alene Press. He can be reached via telephone at 664-8176, Ext. 2020 or via e-mail at jelliott@cdapress.com.

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