MISSOULA, Mont. — Every year about this time, Weber State's basketball team must see Grizzlies in its sleep.
And every year, it seems, that dream turns into a nightmare for the Wildcats.
Weber State saw its NCAA Tournament hopes slip away with a heartbreaking 67-64 loss to top-seeded Montana on Saturday night in the championship game of the Big Sky Conference men's basketball tournament.
The Grizzlies have now knocked Weber State out of the conference tournament in each of the past four seasons. Saturday's loss also snapped Weber State's 13-game winning streak.
"I have to give Montana credit because they earned it," WSU head coach Randy Rahe said. "I couldn't be more proud of our team. This one is hard and it hurts. Our kids have invested into our program and it's painful. I thought we competed hard, we just came up a couple of plays short."
The Wildcats now sit at 26-6 overall and will wait to learn their postseason future. The NIT field will be announced tonight at 7 p.m., with the CIT and CBI fields announced later Sunday.
Weber State held a 50-48 lead with 8:52 to play, but the Wildcats failed to make a field goal in the next six minutes and Montana took a 59-54 lead with 3:10 to play.
Weber's Davion Berry ended that scoring drought with a 3-pointer with 2:37 to play to cut the deficit to two. Berry was fouled on WSU's next possession but missed both free throws, and Montana's Will Cherry knocked down a 3-pointer that gave the Grizzlies a 62-57 lead with 43 seconds left. The 'Cats made two more field goals in the closing seconds in a valiant effort to catch up, but Montana made five out of six free throws to seal the victory.
For the first time this season, Weber State outrebounded an opponent but lost the game. The Wildcats pulled down 33 rebounds compared to 25 for Montana, but Weber State shot just 42 percent from the field and allowed the Grizzlies to shoot 49 percent. WSU also had 13 turnovers and finished the game just 18-of-27 from the free-throw line.
The game was another back-and-forth thriller with six ties and seven lead changes. Montana held a 16-14 lead early on when the Grizzlies went on a 10-3 run to open up a nine-point lead at 26-17 with 7:54 to play.2 comments on this story
The Grizzlies led 29-20 with 5:55 to play when the Wildcats went on a 7-0 run to cut the gap to two points with 4:44 to play. Scott Bamforth had a key four-point play during that stretch. WSU closed the half on a 14-5 run to tie the game at 34-34 at the break. Montana shot 52 percent from the field, compared to 41 percent for the Wildcats during the opening half.
After Montana knocked down a 3-pointer to start the second half, the Wildcats responded with a 10-2 run to take a five-point lead at 44-39 with 15:25 to play.
Four Wildcats scored in double figures and Berry, Bamforth and freshman Joel Bolomboy each had 12 points. Bolomboy, who came in off the bench, also had nine rebounds and two blocked shots. Bolomboy and Berry were named to the All-Tournament field. Gelaun Wheelwright added 11 points for the Wildcats, including a long-distance 3-pointer in final minute.
Montana improved to 25-6 and won its third Big Sky title in the last four years.