Wildcats to join field of 64
Weber State beats Northern Arizona to gain automatic NCAA bid
Weber-- 82, N. Ariz. -- 75
OGDEN -- The tickets to the prom are purchased, now Weber State only has to wait a few more hours to find out who the Wildcats will dance with.Weber State, 24-7, earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament thanks to an 82-75 win over Northern Arizona, 22-8, for its first trip to the Big Dance since 1995.
And like that year, the Wildcats say whoever they end up doing the tango with better be prepared.
"They're not going to respect the Big Sky," said WSU coach Ron Abegglen. "I see us at the maximum getting a 13 seed. But I tell you, whoever it is, they better be ready."
Harold Arceneaux scored 27 points and Eddie Gill captured tournament MVP honors thanks to a marvelous performance that left the crowd of 9,683 chanting "Eddie, Eddie, Eddie" throughout the game. Obviously," Abegglen said, "we're very happy to be here."
Gill's line for the game was 15 points, nine as- sists, six rebounds and only two turnovers despite playing all 40 minutes of the game and being the primary ball handler. The entire Weber State team committed just five turnovers.
"He has a huge impact on Weber State's performance," said NAU coach Ben Howland. "He is a valuable weapon to them. He is an unsung hero."
The game featured a pair of lame duck coaches. NAU's Ben Howland is all but moved to Pittsburgh, and Weber's Ron Abegglen has agreed to step down after the season ends.
Neither coach, however, appeared in the mood to end his Big Sky career on a sour note.
"We really wanted to go out strong and win this for everyone," said senior guard Noel Jackson. "That's the seniors, the team and coach 'A'."
Jackson was about the only Wildcat to show up offensively to start the game. While the rest of the squad couldn't buy a basket, Jackson sliced and drove into the heart of the NAU defense and scored 13 first-half points to keep WSU in contention.
"I saw a couple of cracks in their zone," Jackson said. "That was my thing, to penetrate, and I got some open looks."
NAU, on the other hand, had plenty of hot hands. The 'Jacks connected on 68 percent of their shots over the first 20 minutes, yet managed only a 38-35 lead. Jackson's offense, seven Weber State steals and six offensive rebounds allowed the Wildcats to still be within shouting distance at the break.
"It wasn't looking very good in that first 20 minutes," Abegglen said. "Instead of picking them up at halfcourt, we tried to pick them up full court, and I think that was the difference for us."
A minute into the second half and with that different defensive philosophy, Weber State used a 10-0 run, fueled by five points from both Arceneaux and Gill, to take a 47-41 lead with 17:12 to play. But NAU center Casey Frank scored eight straight points to give the Lumberjacks the lead again.
But after another Frank layup tied the score at 51, the Wildcats took off and never looked back.
Arceneaux nailed a 3-pointer, and Marc Lawson scored six quick points on a trey of his own and a three-shot foul. That gave the Wildcats a 6-point cushion with just more than five minutes to play. NAU never got closer.
"We really tried hard to pull away and get some easy looks," Arceneaux said. "When we got the lead, we were able to settle down a little bit and make them work harder to try and stop us."
Wildcat center Andy Jensen was happy to finally get a spot in the NCAA tourney after a long and journied career. "It's the greatest feeling in the world," Jensen said, only to correct himself in mid-sentence. "Until, tomorrow, then this will be the second-best feeling in the world."
Jensen's wife is due to deliver the couple's first child tomorrow.
Weber State finished the season -- maybe -- with its highest win total since the 84-85 season.
The team, though, doesn't want it to end just yet. "I really don't care where we go," Arceneaux said, though he is a native of one of the host sites, New Orleans. "I just have been waiting my whole life for a chance like this. I've always dreamed about playing in the NCAA Tournament, and now I get a chance to go out and live it."
Weber State will have a selection Sunday party at the Dee Events Center at 4 p.m.
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