Weber State basketball: Wildcats turn away Montana
Ogden • Weber State's players may never admit it, but they looked to have another team on their minds during a winning but lackluster performance Thursday.
That missing edge returned Saturday when Montana stepped onto the Dee Events Center court. Certainly, players on both teams felt the intensity as the two best teams in the Big Sky Conference met in a preview of what might come in March.
On this night, though, the Wildcats had more, taking round one with an 80-64 victory.
"They were ready to play, excited to play," Weber State coach Randy Rahe said about his team. "Our kids get excited to play them because they make you compete. I'm sure their kids feel the same way."
Rahe was spot on.
"This is the game that everybody in the Big Sky wanted to see," said Montana guard Will Cherry, who had a team-high 15 points. "We were pumped up, they were pumped up. We're going to see them again and probably see them in the championship."
Plenty of history exists between the two traditional Big Sky powers. Weber State guard Damian Lillard experienced a bit of that two years ago.
The last time Lillard, who missed last season with injury, played Montana in Ogden, the Grizzlies won by erasing a 20-point halftime lead. He wasn't about to let his teammates forget it.
"At halftime that was the main thing I kept harping on," said Lillard, who led both teams with 21 hard-earned points. "I let the guys know we have to step on them and keep them down and don't let it turn into a dogfight. Last time that happened, we ended up losing the Big Sky championship."
As expected, early on both teams traded baskets. There were six ties and five lead changes in the first 10 minutes.
Then a combination of events conspired against Montana (11-6, 4-1 BSC), which came into the game with a six-game winning streak.
First, Weber State (14-3, 6-0), winner of eight straight, stepped up its defense. Then the Wildcats' bench outplayed the Montana five.
Gelaun Wheelwright, Frank Otis just coming back from a knee injury and Byron Fulton came off the bench in the opening 20 minutes to score a combined 19 points.
The result? A close game turned into a 49-36 halftime lead. The Wildcats eventually opened a 23-point margin within the first five minutes of the second half.
Montana made a run to cut the lead to eight, but instead of wilting, Weber State refocused and slowly pulled away to remain unbeaten in 10 games at home this season.
Scott Bamforth played a large role in halting the rally with a run of seven points in a three-minute spurt. He finished with 15 points.
Then starting center Kyle Tresnak, reduced to watching in the first half due to foul trouble, came back strong in the second with 19 points and five rebounds.
"We knew they were going to make a run," Bamforth said. "We just tried to stick together."
Weber State 80, Montana 64
R Weber State turns the ball over a season-low four times.
• The Wildcats shoot 53 percent in the first half, while limiting Montana to 36 percent.
• Weber State is 8-0 when scoring 80 or more points this season.