Weber State basketball: Wildcats slip past N. Colorado in OT in Big Sky semifinals
Ravell Call, Deseret News
OGDEN — Like all great players do, Davion Berry listened to his coach, and it paid off.
Man, did it ever.
The Big Sky Conference MVP had struggled throughout Friday night's postseason tournament semifinal game against Northern Colorado. And when the two teams walked off the floor deadlocked at 55-all at the end of regulation play and waged a tense overtime struggle, WSU coach Randy Rahe had some simply but great advice for his star player.
"All night, I'd been going in and I didn't get the foul call," Berry said. "Coach Rahe called me over and he said, 'Dav, good players just play through it.' So I just said, "All right, coach."
And, sure enough, play through it he did.
The 6-foot-4 senior swingman scored seven of his team-leading 15 points in overtime, including a critical driving layup that gave Weber State a three-point lead with 10 seconds left, and also fed fellow senior Jordan Richardson for a drive-and-dish 3-pointer earlier in the extra period as the Wildcats turned back the Bears 66-63 in a nail-biter at the Dee Events Center.
With the win, Weber State (18-11) advances into tonight's tourney title game against North Dakota, which shot past Portland State 79-63 in Friday's first semifinal matchup.
Another win tonight would send the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.
"We needed to get a big stop at the end of regulation and we dug in and got one," coach Rahe said. "And same thing in overtime — we needed a stop and we got one.
"Sometimes you've just got to find a way and what's the old saying — you just try to survive and advance — and in tournament play, that's all that matters. I'm proud of the kids and the way they hung together and fought through it."
Richardson scored 10 of his 13 points after halftime, while senior center Kyle Tresnak scored all of his points in the first half for WSU. Richaud Gittens was also in double digits for the Wildcats with 10 points, while Joel Bolomboy, Jeremy Senglin, Kyndahl Hill and Byron Fulton each contributed to the thrilling victory.
For Northern Colorado (18-13), Derrick Barden scored a game-high 21 points, Tate Unruh added 12 and Cody McDavis had 10 more. They each had seven rebounds for the Bears.
With the score tied at 55, time running out on the last possession of regulation play and the crowd of 5,228 holding its collective breath, Unruh missed a potential game-winning jumper from the left angle at the buzzer.
And then it was time for the league MVP to play like one.
"I felt like I owed it to my guys," Berry said of his superb play in OT. "The first two halves, I didn't play well. But I got it going in overtime. I just kept my head and just pushed through.
"I'm the senior leader of the team. I had to push through. I'm a senior so, hah, if we lose I go home. I'm not trying to go home. I'm trying to survive. I knew I had to push through for my teammates.
"I knew I was gonna take the last shot," he said of his decisive closing-seconds layup, which rattled off the rim before falling through. "If somebody was gonna take the shot, I was gonna take the shot unless somebody was wide open. ... That last play, I was determined to put the ball in the hole no matter what. And that's pretty much it."
After taking a 27-24 halftime lead, the Wildcats staged a 14-7 run to move out to an 11-point lead, 48-37, midway through the second half.
But Northern Colorado would not go away, as Barden, Unruh and McDavis rallied the Bears and brought them back into contention. Weber State still led 55-48 with 3:54 to go, but the Bears scored the last seven points of regulation and had the last shot to win it, as the Wildcats' offense was plagued by missed shots and costly turnovers.
"I thought they came in really loosey-goosey and just throwing everything they had at us," Rahe said. "And they did — that's a tough team. We knew we were gonna get their best shot, and we did.
"I'm really proud of our guys. We showed a lot of resolve and a lot of grit."
And now they'll play for the tourney title and a chance to go to the Big Dance.
"It's the biggest game of our careers," Berry said. "We're seniors, and it's just win or go home. We're not trying to go home, we're not trying to have that feeling like last year — we all remember that feeling (a gut-wrenching loss to Montana in the title game).
"So we've just got to push through and play together as a team and fight no matter what happens."
"We know we have to come in focused," Richardson said. "We know what to expect and we've been here before, so we'll be ready to play."
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