OGDEN -- The Wildcats think it's time to write a new ending to their story.
After going 24-6 this season and finishing in second place in the Big Sky Conference, Weber State has the highest winning percentage of any team invited to the fourth annual CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
"The way things ended, there is a sense of, this chapter's not finished yet," WSU senior forward Kyle Bullinger said. "We do have a little more we want to take care of, not necessarily to prove to others out there, but just to finish things off the right way with this team. We don't want to leave with a bad taste in our mouth."
Weber State lost a chance for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by losing to Montana in the championship game of the Big Sky tournament and had a sour taste Sunday as it was overlooked by the National Invitation Tournament, but it's time to move on, Bullinger said.
"The season did not end the way that we wanted it to end; I don't think that there's anybody on our team that would disagree with that statement, but we still have an opportunity to keep playing basketball," he said. "We're all on scholarship because we love to play the game of basketball. There's no complaining. We might have been upset for awhile, but now it's on to the next thing and the next thing is a really, really tough Utah Valley team coming in."
Weber State will host in-state foe Utah Valley at 7 p.m. tonight at the Dee Events Center, another home game for Bullinger and fellow senior forward Darin Mahoney as well as junior point guard Damian Lillard, who could leave school for the NBA Draft after this season is done.
The Wildcats have some unfinished business, said Lillard, who is the second-leading scorer in the country (24.5 ppg), recently became the top single-season scorer in WSU's history and is one of five finalists for the annual Cousy Award given to the country's best point guard.
"It would look bad for us to say, oh, we should have got an NIT bid, or we wish we would have made it to the NCAA Tournament but then we come to the CIT and lose the first game at home, lose the second game," Lillard said. "It is definitely important for us to prove why we're worthy of being in those tournaments. I think it would be stupid of us to come pack it in just because we didn't get in those tournaments."
Weber State coach Randy Rahe said his team was frustrated not to be in the NIT, but thankful to still be playing postseason basketball.
"Obviously we were hoping for an NIT bid but that tournament didn't want us," Rahe said. "This tournament wanted us; we want to go where we're wanted. This tournament wants us so we're going to go give it our best."
"These kids have had a hell of a season," he said. "We've won 24 games, sixth most in school history. We've got six losses, five of those losses are to NCAA Tournament teams. There aren't a lot of programs that can say that around the nation. We've got a great RPI, our guys have proved it up, our body of work is really good. These guys have had a hell of a season and they deserve to play postseason. We're thankful that the CIT is going to give us that opportunity."
WSU's coaching staff got game film on Utah Valley on Sunday night and stayed up late working on a game plan.
Utah Valley, which is competing in its first postseason tournament since moving to Division I, had a 13-game winning streak earlier this season but was upset in the Great West Conference semifinals.
"They've got all the elements to a 20-win team," Rahe said.
Senior guard Isiah Williams averages a team-best 16.1 points per game and senior forward Geddes Robinson pulls down 10.4 rebounds per game to go with 10.0 ppg. Both were named to the all-Great West first team.
Hunsaker's son, point guard Holton Hunsaker, averages 10.7 ppg and all five starters average better than 9.1 ppg in a balanced attack.
Rahe says UVU is well-coached by WSU alum Dick Hunsaker, who played for the Wildcats, graduated in 1977 and was later an assistant to Weber State coach Neil McCarthy.
Outdated information on the CIT website Sunday night suggested there would be second-round byes for some teams, but with the tourney expanded this season from 24 teams to 32, that will not be the case. Instead, tournament organizers will assign second-round games regionally, which means Weber State could see another in-state rival in the future: Utah State is scheduled to play Cal State Bakersfield on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Logan.
The Wildcats defeated the Aggies 73-63 on Nov. 15.
If Weber State advances, other potential western opponents could come from the winners of the UC Santa Barbara at Idaho or the Cal State Fullerton at Loyola Marymount games.