Weber State’s season will continue after a tough loss to nemesis Montana on Saturday in the Big Sky Tournament championship game.
The Wildcats will host Cal Poly at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Dee Events Center in the first round of the 32-team CollegeInsider.com Tournament with a chance to tie the WSU school record for most wins in a season with a victory.
Cal Poly is an affiliate member of the Big Sky Conference in football, but the Wildcats and Mustangs have never met on the basketball court.
Cal Poly (18-13) was eliminated by eventual Big West Tournament champion Pacific in a close 55-53 semifinal game, while Weber State (26-6) fell to Montana in the Big Sky Tournament title game for the third time in four seasons. It was also the fourth consecutive year the Grizzlies have knocked the Wildcats out of the league tournament and ended their chase for a NCAA Tournament bid.
One heartbroken and the other joyful, both coaches in Saturday’s Big Sky championship game brought the same message to the postgame press conference.
Weber State coach Randy Rahe congratulated Montana, then talked of his pride in his players’ effort and how much it hurt not to see it rewarded.
“These guys have had an outstanding season, incredible season,” Rahe said. “Some people may want to say (otherwise) … to hell with that. These guys have invested and played their hearts out for each other.”
Weber State won 26 games for the just fourth time in school history and was 18-2 in the Big Sky.
Sitting with senior shooting guard Scott Bamforth and senior forward Frank “Mook” Otis on the podium, Rahe said, “These two guys sitting next to me took our team on their backs, they led, they helped our team mature, they helped our team grow up and they got us to where we are tonight, these two seniors. I couldn’t be more proud of any kids I’ve ever coached in my life than these two kids right here.”
When Otis transferred from Southern Methodist University in 2010, the Oakland, Calif., native, talked to his former McClymonds High School teammate Will Cherry and the Montana coaches about potentially playing in Missoula, but the Griz didn’t offer a scholarship.
Weber State did and Otis ended up in Ogden playing with another Oakland star and childhood friend, Damian Lillard.
Saturday, Otis scored nine points in his final Big Sky game.
“It’s fun to be playing against my high school teammate, but that doesn’t mean anything right now,” Otis said. “These are the people I’m rolling with right now. I’m rolling with Weber State. This is my family. It hurts me not to see me and my boys get it done. It hurts. That’s all I can say, it really hurts.”
Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said he came to Dahlbert Arena ready to say something very similar to Rahe’s postgame comments.
“I already kind of had a speech prepared before I came to the gym — win or lose,” Tinkle said. “I was going to talk about if things didn’t go our way, that this season was still a success, an unbelievable success when you look at how far this team has come, everything they’ve dealt with and how they just deflected it and continued to find ways to finish. I shared that with a couple of people that are close to me, then I said, ‘But I’m not counting them out’ because never have they let us down. Every time they’re challenged, they respond.”
Sitting in the same place just earlier, Rahe vowed to respond, to not to count his team out despite the pain of having Montana slam the door on its NCAA Tournament hopes once more.
“We’re not going to walk out of here with our heads down. We’re proud of what we accomplished. We’re proud of our program. I’m really proud of how (the players) represent our program with character and class and toughness and togetherness. That’s what Weber State’s all about,” Rahe said. “We came up short again. We’re gonna get it done, we’re gonna knock the door down. It’s gonna come. Sometimes you’ve got to face a little adversity before it happens.”
Tickets for Wedneday’s CollegeInsider.com Tournament game go on sale at 10 a.m. today at the Dee Events Center box office. Cost is $10 for adults, $5 for youth and senior and $5 for current Weber State students. Contact the WSU Ticket office at 801-626-8500 or visit WeberStateTickets.com.
Roy Burton covers Weber State sports for the Standard-Examiner. Follow @RoyBurton on Twitter, read more about the Wildcats at blogs.standard.net/wsu-sports-blog or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.