Weber State basketball: Wildcats hand Montana its worst regular-season loss in four years
OGDEN — Weber State’s Scott Bamforth was left all alone.
In the game of basketball, that’s usually troubling news for the other team.
The sharpshooter squared his feet, bent his legs and in a pendulum flow flicked a rhythmic jumper that brushed nothing but nylon. As he dramatically stood with his arm raised, teammate Davion Berry — his tongue hanging from his mouth while overflowing with emotion — bumped chests with Bamforth as their team's opponent tried to pull itself off the hardwood from the knockout blow.
“I’m just an emotional and passionate player — I want to win,” Berry said. “I knew it was going down just as soon as it left his hands. I just wanted to keep riding emotions and keep playing aggressive.”
The 3-pointer, which gave the Wildcats a 20-point lead early in the second half, epitomized the fervor sweeping through the purple and white jerseys as Weber State ambushed the league-leading Montana Grizzlies, 87-63, Thursday at the Dee Events Center.
“We wanted to come out and prove a point,” Berry, who finished with 16 points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals, said. “We’re not going to be cocky — we still have a couple games left and we have to finish strong. But definitely, this was a statement game.”
The 24-point loss was Montana’s worst regular-season setback since an 85-55 defeat at Colorado State on Nov. 14, 2008. It snapped the Grizzlies' 14-game win streak — the second-longest in the nation — and their 25-game Big Sky winning streak — the longest in conference history.
“Our guys were really locked in tonight. I knew they were going to be excited to play. We not only played really hard and had a good sense of urgency, but we played with poise and composure,” WSU coach Randy Rahe said. “They executed the game plan. Sometimes you get afraid, in these kind of games, that you might get too excited and forget how to play. We had that nice balance of excitement and emotion and then keeping our wits about us.”
Weber State (18-5, 13-2) has now won nine of the last 10 meetings against Montana (18-5, 14-1) in Ogden by an average of 12.7 points per game.
“On both ends of the floor I thought it was pretty close to playing long periods of good basketball maybe as we’ve had for a long time,” Rahe said.
WSU shot 58.2 percent and limited Montana to 46.7 percent from the field while seeing its lead balloon to 31 points with 2:55 left in the second half. The ‘Cats also topped the Grizzlies in assists (21-9), rebounds (29-25), 3-pointers (8-4), steals (8-4), turnovers (7-14), points in the paint (34-24) and bench points (21-15).
Early on, Weber State attacked Montana’s morphing zone (1-3-1 and 2-3) with Kyle Tresnak and Frank Otis on the block, which ultimately freed up shooters around the perimeter.
Tresnak scored a game-high 19 points with five rebounds and Otis added 14 points with five assists and four boards.
With the breathing room, the ‘Cats refused to settle for usually eye-tempting shots. The patience equated to as many assists as the Grizzlies had field goals (21).
With 2:14 left in the first half, after Montana made its first and only surge, Gelaun Wheelwright passed up a 24-foot uncontested look before swishing a corner 3 as the offense trickled back. On the next possession, Wheelwright brushed off his defender with a hard ball sweep and gunned another trey to give WSU a 39-21 advantage.
“Subbing in off the bench, and contributing like we did tonight, I feel it helps a lot,” Wheelwright said. He finished with 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting with four 3-pointers.
The Grizzlies typically rely on their guards Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar. The two collectively average over 27 points per game and nearly nine assists. In the first meeting with WSU, a 76-74 Montana win, the two combined for 39 points.
Weber’s trio of Berry, Wheelwright and Jordan Richardson — with the help of switching bigs — knocked the two ball-handlers out of sync.
“I think just cutting off (Cherry’s) first move frustrated him the most,” Wheelwright said. “In practice our coach told us to guard going under the ball screen because he likes to attack.”
Cherry scored 18-points despite having four fouls. However, he shot 4 of 9 after a quick start. Jamar, the Grizzlies’ leading scorer, fouled out with four points on 1-of-5 shooting.
“If you give Will (Cherry) space, you can’t guard him. We needed to have him see eyes when he came off those ball screens,” Rahe said. “I thought we did a really good job of shrinking the floor. Our guys did a nice job of clogging it up when him and Kareem (Jamar) put the ball on the floor. There were people around them and tried to make them uncomfortable.”
Weber State is back in action Saturday at the Dee Events Center against Montana State. The Bobcats won the first meeting, 79-74, in Bozeman.
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