Wildcats hope to make themselves at home in Montana
Ogden • When Montana defeated Weber State in Missoula on the regular season's final day, it also won the right to host the Big Sky Conference tournament. So, that automatically made the Grizzlies favorites to win and advance to the NCAA Tournament, right?
Not so fast.
"That's why [conference tournaments] are so fun and so exciting," said Weber State coach Randy Rahe, who knows from hard experience that hosting a tournament is not a lock to winning it.
"They're really unpredictable," Rahe continued. "You don't know what's going to happen."
Six times in the past 12 tournaments, the host team has been knocked off. It happened to Weber State (23-5, 14-2) in 2009 and 2010.
Montana (23-6, 15-1), the No. 1 seed, last hosted in 2000 and saw Northern Arizona dance off the Dahlberg Arena floor and into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, Montana hasn't won a Big Sky championship on its home floor since 1991 but has won five tournaments on someone else's home floor.
"There are going to be four teams up there, and all four are capable of winning it," Rahe said. "Obviously, Montana has the advantage playing at home, but you never know."
Right now, however, Rahe is concerned only about fine-tuning his team. The second-seeded Wildcats face Portland State in the first semifinal game Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
When Weber State played Montana last Tuesday, it marked the first time two one-loss Big Sky Conference teams met on the final night of the regular season to determine the champion.
Weber State, which entered the game as the ninth-best 3-point shooting team in Division I basketball, played as if it had never attempted such a shot. Twenty-three of the Wildcats' 26 3-point attempts were off-target.
Rahe said his team was too hyped. Junior guard Scott Bamforth, who combined with junior Damian Lillard to go 3-for-19 from 3-point range, agreed. Weber State had not been held below 57 points all season.
"I watched the whole tape three times," Bamforth said. "Everybody was trying to win so bad, I think we just, we didn't play selfish, but we tried to get it back individually instead of the way we played all year.
"With how bad we shot, we were only down by five points with four minutes to play and we had the ball. If a few plays go our way, we're down two and are making a run."
Bamforth knows full well what can go wrong in the heat of a conference tournament. Two years ago, the fourth-seeded Grizzlies came back from a 22-point deficit to upset Weber State.
Montana's Anthony Johnson went off for a tournament-record 42 points, 34 in the second half, including the game-winner with 10 seconds to play.
"If we just play together, we'll have a chance," Bamforth said. "If we get to the championship game, just need to learn from last time and grow. When things get tough, instead of trying something [individually] to win, we just need to play together."
As Rahe said, you never know.
Big Sky hosts' woes
Since 2000, the host team has failed to win the Big Sky Conference tournament six times. Between 1991 and 2011, the host has won the tournament 13 of the 21 years.
2000 • Host: Montana. Winner: Northern Arizona.
2002 • Host: Montana State. Winner: Montana.
2005 • Host: Portland State. Winner: Montana.
2006 • Host: Northern Arizona. Winner: Montana.
2009 • Host: Weber State. Winner: Portland State.
2010 • Host: Weber State. Winner: Montana.
Weber State vs. Portland State
P Tuesday, 5:30 p.m. MST, at Missoula, Mont.
TV • Altitude