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Weber State basketball: Big Sky play begins with Montana schools; Griz battle again important

By BRETT HEIN - Standard-Examiner | Dec 27, 2023
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Weber State's Dillon Jones (2) scores against Montana's Dischon Thomas (24) on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023, at the Dee Events Center in Ogden.
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Weber State's Steven Verplancken Jr. (11) drives against Montana State's RaeQuan Battle on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, at the Dee Events Center in Ogden.

Big Sky Conference basketball play begins Thursday with a big day, staging a pair of games that pit what appear to be the top four men’s teams against each other.

Portland State visits Eastern Washington in one of those games, while Weber State hosts the other by welcoming in the Montana Grizzlies for Part 1 of what is always a well-contested series — and almost always one that factors into the top of the conference race.

While students are on break for the 7 p.m. game at the Dee Events Center, Weber State (7-4) plans to fare better than the last time it took a long break between Division I opponents when it dropped a road game to Utah Valley.

The Wildcats scored big wins on the road against Saint Mary’s and Wyoming, and a neutral-site win over Yale, but let leads slip away in losses to Gardner-Webb and Colgate while taking the ugly loss at UVU — all things WSU hopes has prepared it for conference play.

“I think we are a good team. We know that we’re talented, but we do have to play a certain way to be able to perform,” said Dillon Jones, the fourth-year forward who again leads the country in defensive rebounding. “We’ve had really high moments and we’ve also experienced really low moments, and it’s all happened in 11 games.

“Now going into conference, we can get kind of a flow going … and learn from what’s helped us or what’s making us lose — staying focused on the process instead of the opponent or the outcome.”

So to Ogden come the Griz, a place Montana won last season. WSU and UM split the season series with a dramatic WSU win in Missoula and, after Weber triumphed at home over Montana State, it lost two days later to a lesser Griz team.

Now, it seems, Montana is again looking like a top-tier Big Sky team in the 10th season with Travis DeCuire at the helm.

The team is led by seventh-year guard Aanen Moody. After stops at North Dakota and Southern Utah, Moody emerged as a scoring star when given starter’s minutes for the first time last season at Montana. This season, Moody leads Montana (7-4) with 15.4 points per game.

The Griz needed one more standout when compared to last season and found it in freshman guard Money Williams. The Oakland native is scoring 14.3 points per game and uses the second-most possessions, percentage-wise, of any player in the country (36.9%).

In the frontcourt, Dischon Thomas is back and, though not taking a big leap in averages (8.5 points, 4.1 rebounds per game), is the team’s best 3-point shooter (13 of 31 for 41.9%).

Division II transfer Laolu Oke did take that jump in his second year at Montana. He’s averaging 9.4 points per game while feasting on high-percentage shots (41 of 62 for 66.1% shooting) and 8.5 rebounds per game (he’s top-10 nationally in offensive rebound percentage).

Along with mainstay guards Brandon Whitney and Josh Vazquez, junior college transfer Te’jon Sawyer is another addition at the forward spot; he scores 7.5 points per game.

Montana has a similar resume to Weber State but with fewer data points: like WSU, UM has four Division I wins and three non-Division I wins. The Griz, however, have their four against two schools, convincingly sweeping in-season, home-and-home series with both San Jose State and UC Davis. Montana lost on its home floor to North Dakota State, while also taking losses to Houston, Nevada and Oregon.

Both teams take good care of the ball but, while WSU forces lots of turnovers, Montana is in the bottom 20 nationally in defensive turnover percentage.

The game will tip at 7 p.m. and stream on ESPN+ and the ESPN app with Scott Garrard and Joe Cravens on the call. Steve Klauke and David Patten will call the game on 103.1 FM radio and www.1031thewave.com.

Ken Pomeroy’s numbers predict Weber State by four points at 66% probability, while ESPN analytics give WSU a 78% likelihood of winning.


Saturday afternoon, Weber State finishes the first weekend of Big Sky play by hosting Montana State (5-6) at 2 p.m.

After two years on top of the Big Sky, Montana State is regrouping with the departure of coach Danny Sprinkle to Utah State (the Aggies are currently 12-1).

Accomplished Division II coach Matt Logie now leads the Bobcats after a 29-4 season coaching Point Loma Nazarene. Logie entered this season with the third-highest win percentage for coaches across all NCAA divisions.

Aside from Robert Ford III and Tyler Patterson returning, MSU is rebuilding and searching for an identity. The Bobcats won a game at California, but have home losses to Green Bay and NAIA Rocky Mountain College.

The thing MSU does best is defend the 3-point line; against Division I opponents, MSU is 10th nationally in defensive 3-point percentage (26.8%) and 46th in limiting 3-point attempts (32.6% of opponents’ field-goal attempts are from 3).

Newcomer Brian Goracke leads Montana State in scoring. The 6-foot-6 forward followed Logie from Point Loma and averages 15.5 points per game this season. Ford scores 14.3 points per game, and both he (43.3%) and Goracke (36.1%) are threats from the 3-point line. Patterson remains a 3-point specialist, while it’s the diminutive Ford (generously listed as a 6-footer) leading the Bobcats with 8.1 rebounds per game.

Another newcomer worth tracking is 6-foot-7 sophomore Brandon Walker, who averages 11.9 points per game. He shot 11 of 15 on two-pointers for 26 points to defeat Cal and seems to be building on his potential in Bozeman after one season as a bench player at UT-Arlington.

The 2 p.m. Saturday tip again streams on ESPN+ with a radio call on 103.1 FM.

Pomeroy’s numbers give Weber State an 11-point nod at 85% probability, while ESPN’s formula gives WSU an 89% likelihood of winning.


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