Wednesday , March 07, 2018 - 2:23 PM
RENO, Nev. — After reaching the Big Sky championship game two years in a row, the Weber State men will have their toughest path to return for a third time as the four seed, their lowest finish since the inception of the new tournament format.
The Wildcats (20-10, 13-5 Big Sky) will face five-seed Northern Colorado on Thursday after the Bears (21-11, 11-7) blew by Northern Arizona 82-59 in the opening round of the tournament Tuesday.
WSU won both contests against UNCo in the regular season, but neither game was easy. The Wildcats won 78-74 in Greeley and needed overtime in Ogden to claim a 71-66 victory.
WSU head coach Randy Rahe acknowledged the difficulty of defeating the same team three times in a season, but said everything resets in Reno.
“Once the game starts, then it’s a new game,” Rahe said. “They’re going to play one of their best games, or try to because they’re going to be hungry. It’s the tournament. Everybody’s hungry.
“It’s always difficult, but once that ball gets tipped up, it’s a new game, new situation.”
Should Weber State beat Northern Colorado in the quarterfinals, they would likely face one-seed Montana in the semifinals, who handed the Wildcats their second-worst loss of the season in Missoula just a week ago.
Rahe and the Wildcats will take the tournament one game at a time.
“I know we’ve got our hands full no matter who we play,” Rahe said. “Everybody knows the bracket. I haven’t looked at the bracket, but I know we’re going to play Northern Colorado, so I’m watching tape on them. We all know who’s on what side, but it doesn’t matter.”
Weber State snapped a three-game skid in an overtime win against Montana State on sophomore guard Jerrick Harding’s school-record 46 points, and hope to carry more confidence into the tournament.
“Lately I’ve been playing kind of bad. I haven’t been playing well for my teammates, so I feel like that was a big game for me to just be aggressive,” Harding said. “We did lose a couple in a row, but I feel like this game we just played helped us build a lot of momentum. We’re playing pretty good. I feel like we’ll put it all together in the tournament.”
With a thin, seven-player rotation and the bumps and bruises that come with the grind of the season, Weber State was fatigued toward the end of the conference play. Rahe called the win against the Bobcats the most impressive win for his team in Big Sky play.
“I was more impressed with that win than any other conference win we’ve had all year because of everything that we were up against,” Rahe said. “Montana State came out and played their hardest they probably played in the last month.
“That was a good win for these kids, and they deserved it. They felt good about it and they should have. They just worked. That was toughness.”
Weber State is 19-5 all-time against Northern Colorado and has won six in a row. The two teams tip at 3:35 p.m. MST Thursday. The game will stream on WatchBigSky.com and the Pluto TV app.
Contact sports reporter Brandon Garside at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BrandonGarside and on Facebook.com/BrandonGarsideSE.
Sign up for e-mail news updates.