Weber State (24-5) at Montana (24-6)
Wednesday, March 7, 9:00 p.m. (ET)
The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Dahlberg Arena (7,500) -- Missoula, Montana. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: WSU 15-0, Montana 15-2. Away Record: WSU 7-5, Montana 9-4. Neutral Record: WSU 2-0, Montana 0-0. Conference Record: WSU 14-2, Montana 15-1. Series Record: Weber State leads, 64-49.
GAME NOTES: While it doesn't happen all the time, the Big Sky Conference Tournament played out just as expected as the championship game in the 37th annual event pits second-seeded Weber State against top-seeded Montana tonight at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula.
On Tuesday night, after waiting for the quarterfinal round to play out on Saturday, the Wildcats kicked off the semis with a 69-63 triumph over Portland State, which means WSU is now 37-26 in this event all-time and is back in the title tilt and vying for the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence. Weber State, which has a league-high eight conference titles, has not won it all since defeating Northern Arizona in 2007 by a score of 88-80.
The Grizzlies, second only to WSU in tournament championships with seven, won it all just two years ago with a narrow 66-65 win over the Wildcats ironically enough. Montana is now 30-25 in the event all-time thanks to a 74-66 triumph in Tuesday night's pairing with fourth-seeded Eastern Washington in front of the hometown crowd.
Montana lost just two games in 17 home dates this year, and was a perfect 8-0 against the rest of the Big Sky. The Wildcats were just here eight days ago and suffered a disappointing 66-51 setback to the Grizzlies. Nevertheless, WSU still maintains a 64-49 advantage in the all-time series, thanks in part to an 80-64 win at home back in the middle of January.
Damian Lillard scored a team-high 22 points as the nation's second-leading scorer helped guide Weber State to the six-point win over third-seeded Portland State in the semifinals last night. Lillard converted 9-of-10 shots at the free-throw line and also accounted for four assists and tied a career- high with four steals, while Gelaun Wheelwright and Kyle Tresnak contributed with 15 and 10 points, respectively. Lillard (24.4 ppg) is more than just a scorer who is capable of dropping 30 points on any given night, he is also the team leader in assists (114) and steals (44) this season, not to mention fighting in the paint among the big men in order to come away with 4.9 rpg as well. Although he didn't perform up to his standards on Tuesday, Scott Bamforth is still a much-valued performer for the Wildcats because when Lillard is being too closely guarded it is usually the other guard that gets most of the scoring opportunities, and he has responded with 14.8 ppg.
Kareem Jamar registered a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds as Montana topped Eastern Washington by eight points in the semifinals less than 24 hours ago. Also having a strong game for the Grizzlies was Mathias Ward with 19 points and seven rebounds, knocking down all 12 of his free-throw attempts on the night. Will Cherry and Derek Selvig contributed 16 and 12 points, respectively. The Grizzlies finished the night shooting only 3-of-13 behind the three-point line, but made up for it by outscoring the Eagles at the free-throw line by a 27-11 margin. With a different leading scorer in each of the last four outings, the Grizzlies have shown that a balanced offense can get the job done. In terms of overall scoring through 30 games, Cherry is credited with 16.1 ppg and is also first on the unit with 78 steals, followed by Jamar (13.5 ppg) who is not only shooting 43.1 percent from three-point range, he is also first on the team with 108 assists and among the team leaders with 5.8 rpg as well.
Everyone knows that Lillard is a key figure in this meeting, which means it will be one of the so-called fringe players that will probably make the difference. Getting the hometown crowd behind them is key, so much so that the Grizzlies should be able to use that proverbial sixth-man in order to pull off the victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montana 71, Weber State 66
03/07 10:33:52 ET