OGDEN — A season disrupted by COVID-19 took at least one more turn when the Weber State men's basketball regular-season finale, scheduled for Saturday at noon against Northern Colorado, was canceled about 30 minutes prior to tip due to what could be described as an extreme abundance of caution ahead of the conference tournament next week.
No players on either team have tested positive for COVID-19 but a potential exposure meant both sides called it off to ensure they can play next week in Boise. WSU has not had a player test positive since August 2020, WSU head coach Randy Rahe said earlier this season.
"It's hard. These guys like to compete and they want to play," Rahe said. "But the decision was made that nobody wants to risk the Big Sky Tournament. Five days away, you just don't want to risk it.
"These guys have really embraced that attitude, it is what it is, if you get canceled you move on to the next day. Let's move on to the next practice, move on to the next game, and just stay in that present moment."
Weber State still honored four of its five seniors on the court at tipoff time. Senior forward Dontay Bassett did not participate, having already decided to return for the extra season provided by the NCAA. Isiah Brown, Cody Carlson, Kham Davis and Michal Kozak were honored; some may return, some are set to finish their college careers.
Brown and others had plenty of family present, and they with other WSU players spent a little time on the court putting up shots after honoring the seniors while Northern Colorado headed to the airport.
The turn of events means Weber State finishes the regular season at 17-5, with a 12-3 record in conference play and 11-0 at home — just the fourth time since the Dee Events Center opened in 1977 that WSU was unbeaten at home.
"We've been fortunate. Our kids have done a really good job with the COVID stuff. It's a tribute to them, to their dedication, to wanting to play basketball," Rahe said. "They basically go from the apartment, back to the Dee, to the apartment, and stay in their bubble as much as possible ... these guys have sacrificed the life of being a college student to get a chance to play basketball."
Southern Utah (19-3, 12-2) finished its best regular season in school history by defeating Portland State on Saturday to clinch its first Big Sky regular-season title outright and first conference title since 2001.
Weber and Eastern Washington finished tied for second place at 12-3 but, as for tournament seeding, it appears WSU will lose that tiebreaker.
Despite differences in number of games played in an imbalanced schedule, uneven home and road splits — WSU had five conference games canceled, four of which were home games — the Big Sky seems set to resolve tiebreakers through its usual method, which involves comparing head-to-head results between the two teams going down the standings until the tie can be broken.
The NCAA'S NET ranking, where Weber State has led the Big Sky for more than the last month and currently sits at 106, would only be used if the tie could not be broken through the standings.
So, that tie would be broken by WSU's road loss to Montana as the first common opponent that both WSU and EWU have each played that can be used to break the tie.
In all, Weber State had seven games this season canceled due to COVID-19 protocols. In nonconference play, a road game at Dixie State and a home game against Utah State were lost; WSU made up the USU game by scheduling Boise State the next day, but the Dixie game was not made up.
The five conference games WSU lost to cancellation were a home series against Eastern Washington, single home games against Idaho State and Northern Colorado, and a road game at Idaho State. The Big Sky chose to enforce a blanket policy that no conference games would be rescheduled in any circumstance. WSU recouped two games after the EWU cancellation, hosting nonconference games against Yellowstone Christian College and Tarleton State.
Saturday's cancellation may allow WSU to catch its breath and rest its legs ahead of the tournament. The Wildcats played a total of seven games through the first seven weeks of the season before playing YCC and Tarleton on Jan. 16 and 17. Starting there, WSU ended the season playing 15 games over the next seven weeks with no break or bye week.
Rahe said he'd give the team through Sunday off, and practice Monday and Tuesday before heading to Boise for their first game Thursday.
The Big Sky men's tournament will live stream games on Pluto TV channel 1050 and watchbigsky.com, with the championship game on ESPNU.
FIRST ROUND, MARCH 10
9 a.m. — No. 8 Northern Colorado vs. No. 9 Sacramento State
Noon — No. 7 Portland State vs. No. 10 Northern Arizona
3 p.m. — No. 6 Montana vs. No. 11 Idaho
QUARTERFINALS, MARCH 11
11 a.m. — No. 1 Southern Utah vs. NoCo/Sac State
2 p.m. — No. 4 Idaho State vs. No. 5 Montana State
5 p.m. — No. 2 Eastern Washington vs. PSU/NAU
8 p.m. — No. 3 Weber State vs. Montana/Idaho
SEMIFINALS, MARCH 12
5 p.m. — Winner of SUU/ISU side
8 p.m. — Winner of EWU/Weber side
FINAL, MARCH 13
6 p.m. tipoff on ESPNU
Weber State women's basketball (2-19, 2-16 Big Sky) finished the regular season with a competitive, 71-66 loss at Northern Colorado on Friday.
WSU enters the tournament as the No. 10 seed, facing No. 7 Northern Arizona (12-12, 10-10) at 5 p.m. Monday, March 8, in the first round.