OGDEN — The Wildcats wanted to put some heat on the league-leading Grizzlies.
Weber State demolished Montana 87-63 on Thursday night, snapping its 14-game winning streak as well as its conference-record 25 straight Big Sky regular season victories.
But the Wildcats didn’t just ratchet up the pressure on the Grizzlies — they cranked it up on themselves as well. Instead of merely conceding the Big Sky crown to Montana and coasting to a second-place finish, Weber State (18-5, 13-2 Big Sky) has to keep pace and hope the Griz (18-5, 14-1) stumble down the stretch.
“We wanted to try to put a little heat on (the Grizzlies),” ’Cats coach Randy Rahe said. “They haven’t had much heat on them the whole conference season, and now it’s a one-game lead and we’ll see what happens from here. We’ve got to take care of our own business and that’s all we’re really going to be concerned about, but now they’ve got to hold their own, too. We’ll see what happens — a long way to go. That was a good confidence win for our guys, to know that Montana is the best team in the league and we can dang sure play with them.”
First place in the league race has added value this season; only the tournament hosts get a bye in the seven-team Big Sky Tournament field.
The stakes may be higher now, but that’s just the way the ’Cats wanted it.
And they haven’t forgotten which team put them behind the 8-ball in the conference race.
“We feel the same way about Montana State (as we did about Montana), that we owe them one because we went up there to Bozeman and didn’t come out ready to play,” Weber State sophomore guard Gelaun Wheelwright said Thursday. “They gave us our first loss in conference, so (Friday) in practice is going to be really intense. We’re excited about this Montana win, but we gotta get ready for (Montana State).”
The ’Cats and Bobcats tip off tonight at 7 p.m. at the Dee Events Center.
Montana State (10-13, 7-8) got blasted by Idaho State on Thursday, 87-51, and has lost three in a row and four of its last five with a pair of starters missing games for injury and personal reasons, but the Wildcats remember getting burned in Bozeman by four Bobcats in double figures on Jan. 24.
Antonio Biglow and Xavian Blout each scored 18 points, Christian Moon added 16 and Paul Egwuonwu had 10 while Montana State hit 24 of 29 from the free throw line to fend back a late charge by WSU, including several deep 3s by junior forward Davion Berry, who finished with a game-high 24 points.
Weber State coach Randy Rahe vowed after Monday’s win over Idaho State that the Wildcats would reduce their turnovers after averaging 14.6 per game in their previous six games.
Whatever he said — or yelled — it worked.
Against Montana, WSU dished 21 assists, a season-high against a Division I opponent, and only turned the ball over seven times, its lowest number since Dec. 5.
The Wildcats also had a ratio of 21 assists to 32 field goals.
“Our first probably 10 to 12 games of the season, we were similar to that (ratio), but then all of a sudden the turnover bug started to hit us a little bit. I’ve been screaming at them and doing different things to try to get it solved, but I feel like this is where our team should be. We’ve got a real good skill level, we’ve got really unselfish guys and when you’re locked in mentally, that’s the kind of numbers you should put up.”
Efficient passing leads to efficient scoring: Weber State’s 58.2 percent shooting from the field against Montana boosted the Wildcats into first in the country in season shooting percentage (.509).
They’re just one of three teams above the 50 percent mark nationally.
“When we pass the ball, when we share the ball, it makes it easy for us,” said Berry, the fifth-leading scorer in the Big Sky Conference at 14.7 points per game.
Weber State has won 16 straight Big Sky home games and holds a 47-7 all-time advantage against Montana State in games held in Ogden.