Weber State (23-6) at Montana (22-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, February 28th, 9:00 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Dahlberg Arena (7,500) -- Missoula, Montana. Television: Altitude. Home Record: WSU 15-0, Montana 13-2. Away Record: WSU 6-4, Montana 9-4. Neutral Record: WSU 1-0, Montana 0-0. Conference Record: WSU 14-1, Montana 14-1. Series Record: Weber State leads, 64-48.
GAME NOTES: This one is for all the marbles, at least as far as the regular season and conference tournament seeding is concerned, as the Weber State Wildcats and Montana Grizzlies close out Big Sky Conference action with a meeting that will decide the regular-season champion.
Montana, which has rattled off a staggering 11 straight wins and 17 in the last 18 outings overall, defeated in-state foe Montana State over the weekend in a 57-47 final, which means the team is now 14-1 in league play and that's exactly where Weber State sits at the moment as well.
As for the Wildcats, if not for a surprising 64-62 loss to Idaho State exactly one month ago, the team would be undefeated in league play and cruising along with a win streak that dates back to the middle of December. Last week, WSU topped Northern Colorado on the road, 88-71, which means the squad boasts a seven-game win streak.
With the Big Sky Conference Tournament set to begin on Saturday with quarterfinal-round action at campus sites, both of these teams will have an entire week to prepare for their first games as the top two seeds host games on Tuesday. Should both Montana and WSU advance next week then they'll clash in the title matchup on Wednesday night on the floor of the top seed, so there's quite a bit riding on this particular battle.
Weber State has clashed with the Grizzlies more than any other opponent over the years as the Wildcats maintain a 64-48 edge in the all-time series entering tonight. Montana has won four of the last six meetings, but earlier this season it was WSU that logged a convincing win at home over Montana with an 80-64 triumph, the lone conference loss for the Grizz thus far.
Now the second-leading scorer in Weber State history, Damian Lillard notched his eighth 30-point game of the season last week in the victory over the Bears as he shot 5-of-10 beyond the arc and 13-of-14 at the free-throw line, all while handing out eight assists as well. Gelaun Wheelbright tallied 15 points off the bench, Kyle Tresnak 14 and Kyle Bullinger 10 points, while Darin Mahoney logged a team-best 11 rebounds. Against conference opponents this season Lillard, a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award for the top point guard in the nation, is producing 24.7 ppg as he shoots a fantastic 45.5 percent from three-point range even with all of the added attention. Lillard is also first with 63 assists and 22 steals and is a primary rebounder for the Wildcats with 4.5 per game so if anyone deserves national recognition he surely does. Even though he was held under double digits by UNC the last time out, Scott Bamforth (15.8 ppg) has picked up the slack during those rare moments when Lillard might not have a clear path to the basket.
Just a week earlier Montana dropped 94 points on Hawaii in a non-conference meeting and then on Thursday night the team recorded 78 versus Northern Arizona, so it was somewhat surprising to see the Grizzlies come up with just 57 in a 10-point win over Montana State at home. With four starters scoring in double figures, it was Art Steward who led the way with 14 points, followed by Will Cherry and Derek Selvig with 13 and 11 points, respectively. Kareem Jamar tacked on 10 points to go along with his 10 defensive rebounds for the hosts as well. In the last three games the Grizz have had a different scorer each time out, but overall the honors go to Cherry (15.9 ppg) and Jamar (13.3 ppg), the latter hitting on 43.6 percent of his three-point tries and at the same time both pulling down 5.5 rpg and leading the group with 106 assists. Showing some handy work of his own, Cherry (4.0 rpg) has an impressive 74 steals over the course of 28 starts.
A perfect 15-0 at home this season, Weber State has only been exposed on the road and that could certainly work in favor of the Grizzlies tonight. However, WSU already showed it could easily handle Montana this season, so why not at least one more time?
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Weber State 77, Montana 68
02/28 10:48:34 ET