We're in the final chapter of this story, but it could be a cliffhanger -- with a good chance there will be a sequel.
The winner of the long-awaited showdown between Weber State and Montana on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont., earns the Big Sky regular season crown and will also host the league tournament March 6-7.
No matter what happens that night, however, the Wildcats and Grizzlies have already clinched byes into the semifinals and will be favored to reach the championship game in what would be their third meeting of the season, this time with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line.
After Weber State's BracketBusters win over UT Arlington stopped the Mavericks' 16-game winning streak Feb. 18, 'Cats coach Randy Rahe was asked if the win showed his Wildcats were an NCAA Tournament-quality team.
"I don't know, to be honest with you," Rahe said. "I like our team. I like our guys. We can play with a lot of teams out there. We believe that and our guys believe that. All that's going to be coming down the stretch. We're going to find out.
"Whoever makes the NCAA Tournament, there's going to be some teams we feel like we can play with in there. There ain't no doubt about it, these kids have got a lot of confidence and they should; they've had a good season and hopefully it continues to get better. All that stuff is down the road and we'll see what happens, but we're capable of playing pretty darn good basketball."
Weber State standout point guard Damian Lillard was asked a similar question that night.
"I think we've proved ourselves to be a team that could be in the NCAA Tournament," he said. "It's unfortunate that our league gets only one bid so it comes down to the Big Sky championship, but I definitely think that we're a tournament team."
The Wildcats' chance to dance during March Madness will come down to the league tournament, as Lillard pointed out. Winning Tuesday against Montana to earn home court advantage could be a big boost toward that goal, but it's no guarantee. Weber State has learned that the hard way, getting knocked out of the conference tourney on its own court in both 2008-09 and in 2009-10.
Lillard is the second-leading scorer in the country (24.7 ppg), and the junior from Oakland, Calif., is being increasingly viewed as a first-round pick in this summer's NBA draft, but he wants to make sure the Wildcats reach the NCAA Tournament before his college career is over.
"That's the only thing that I haven't done since I've been here," Lillard told KFAN 1320-AM last week. "I haven't been to the NCAA Tournament, which is everybody in college basketball's goal. I've won MVP, I've won the league, I've been first-team all-conference -- that's the one thing that I don't have on my resume. That's something that I feel like I have to have. I don't want to let coach Rahe down. I don't want to say, we had all these good years but we never got the big thing done."
Weber State's men's basketball attendance at the Dee Events Center this season is its highest in years. See where the Wildcats rank among schools in the West at blogs.standard.net/wsu-sports-blog.
Weber State's Lindquist Alumni Center is hosting a watch party for Tuesday's big game. Student Alumni Association, Alumni Association and Wildcat Club members are invited to the center Tuesday for the 7 p.m. tipoff to watch the game on Altitude TV. Doors will be open at 6:30 p.m. Light refreshments will be provided. RSVP at http://alumni.weber.edu/hoops or call 801-626-7535. Seating capacity is limited to the first 100 who respond.
There's more than March Madness in store for next month.
New Weber State football coach John L. Smith wants to give his team as much time together as possible to learn his system, so spring practices open March 7. Camp is scheduled to end April 14 with WSU's annual spring game.
Roy Burton covers Weber State sports for the Standard-Examiner. Follow @RoyBurton on Twitter and read his WSU posts at blogs.standard.net/wsu-sports-blog.