Weber State wins Big Sky championship game, advances to NCAA tournament

Sunday , March 13, 2016 - 4:59 PM

RENO, Nev. — For the first time in Randy Rahe’s tenure at Weber State, the Wildcats defeated Montana in the Big Sky Conference tournament, topping the Grizzlies on Saturday 62-59 to move on to the NCAA Tournament.

“It's about time. They've been a little bit of a thorn in our side,” Rahe said about Montana. “I have great respect for what they do and how they do it up there, they are a class program. But, they've knocked us out of the tournament a few times and sent us on our way.”

“It's about time we ended up winning one of these games. I guess you could say we were due,” Rahe said.

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In crunch time, Weber State had to inbound the ball with seven seconds remaining, holding a 60-59 lead. Dusty Baker curled around a screen and dashed to the hoop for a wide-open layup to put Weber up by three with five seconds remaining.

“We didn't usually run it to score, and we just made a minor adjustment on it to curl Dusty around all the way in front and see if maybe they get lost,” Rahe said of the inbound play. “(Montana) just got a little bit confused .. and I'm glad it worked.”

Montana’s Walter Wright took the last shot to potentially force overtime, but it bounced high off the rim as the buzzer sounded — and the celebration was on for the Wildcats.

Jeremy Senglin scored 20 points and dished six assists to lead Weber State and was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Joel Bolomboy was named to the All-Tournament Team, scoring four points and grabbing nine rebounds in the title game.

“Every time you win a championship it's a great feeling,” Senglin said. “I love winning, we love winning as a team. That's what we do, and that's what we want to make our program known for.”

Ryan Richardson helped make up for Montana’s persistent double teams used to limit Bolomboy, scoring 15 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field. Kyndahl Hill also chipped in 10 points and six rebounds.

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The Wildcats came out white-hot with an early 26-14 lead in the first eight minutes of play, and later extended the lead to 32-18 with more than seven minutes to play in the half.

Determined to keep their streak against Weber State in the conference tournament alive, the Grizzlies capitalized on offensive rebounds and turnovers to cut the lead down to 41-38 at halftime.

“We got off to a great start and made some shots early,” Rahe said. “But Montana is really good, they're not going to go away, so they made a push at the end of the half. And then it just settled in to being a slugfest, a fistfight, which is what we expected all along.”

The second half was a defensive battle. Only five combined points were scored in the final six minutes before Baker made the last layup, making every possession count down the stretch.

After shooting 63 percent from the field in the first half, the Wildcats dropped to 35 percent in the second half. Montana had the same trend, dropping from 53 percent to 31 percent in the second half.

The Wildcats await the Selection Sunday show at 3:30 p.m. MDT, which airs on CBS, to see who, where and when they will play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Projections have Weber State as a 15-seed.

Weber State is hosting a watch party for the announcement inside the Dee Events Center with doors opening at 2:30 p.m.

Contact sports reporter Brandon Garside at bgarside@standard.net, on Twitter @BrandonGarside and on Facebook.com/BrandonGarsideSE.

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