Any doubt that Weber State would qualify for this week's Big Sky Tournament was erased in about the first minute of Saturday night's game.
The Wildcats needed to beat lowly Northern Arizona to guarantee a spot in the tournament and they did it with ease, taking a 50-point victory, 119-69 in front of a giddy crowd of 4,032 at the Dee Events Center.Actually, the Wildcats could have lost and still made the tourney since Montana State lost to Montana about a half hour after the end of the Weber-NAU game. But the Wildcats were taking no chances.
They sprinted to a 15-0 lead and never looked back, leading by 32 at the half as many as 53 late in the game. It was the largest margin of victory in Big Sky play for the 'Cats and nearly their biggest win ever (they beat Texas Wesleyan by 54 seven years ago).
"I haven't been in that kind of game in a long time, so it was enjoyable," said Weber Coach Denny Huston. "Needless to say, the kids feel like they're pretty good basketball players right now."
For their final home appearance, Huston started his four seniors, regulars Aaron Bell and Tony Nicholas, along with Chris Metke and Mike Pomeroy. Junior point guard Jason Joe was the fifth starter. That group responded with a 15-0 run to start the game and prompted one fan to comment, "Maybe we've had the wrong starters all year."
But a big reason of it was NAU, which missed its first five shots and committed three quick turnovers. The Lumberjacks must rank in the bottom 10 of Division I basketball teams and it's a wonder how they managed to win four games this year (including one over second-place Nevada).
"They're very young," conceded Huston. "That's a good bunch of young kids and all they need is another year."
As poor as NAU looked in its worst loss of the year, Weber looked great. The Wildcats shot 67 percent from the field, including 11 of 17 from 3-point range. They outboarded NAU 46-26 and were credited with 41 assists on their 48 baskets (that sounds like a pretty generous stat crew, but there were a lot of layups and dunks).
Still it was hard to gauge how good the Wildcats are playing as they head into tournament play and Huston acknowledged as much. "You cannot look at that game and say how good we're playing."
Two of the seniors honored before the game led the way for the Wildcats. Nicholas and Bell both ended up with 24 points - Bell on 10 of 12 from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers and Nicholas on 9 of 15 including 6-of-10 3-pointers.
Five other Wildcats finished in double figures including freshman Jimmy DeGraffenreid with 14, David Baldwin with 13, Al Hamilton and Robbie Johnson with 11 and Pomeroy with 10.
NAU was led by Steve Williams with 14 and Wendell Tull. David Wolfe, who started some games for BYU a couple of years ago before transferring, had 10. Mike Herring, another ex-BYU player, was the only NAU player not to play.
"We needed to win the game, but it was nice to go out and have some fun," said Bell, who made his first career 3-pointers in his final regular-season game.
Bell thinks the Wildcats will do well this week in Missoula, Mont., for the Big Sky Tournament.
"Everybody's up. Tonight we played well and it gives us a good boost going into the tournament," said Bell.
The Big Sky tourney starts Wednesday with a pair of games and continues Friday and Saturday. Weber (12-15) will go in as the 6th-place team and will meet 3rd-place Idaho in the first round. Weber lost both games to Idaho this year by 4 points and 2 points.
Northern Arizona is finished for the season with a 4-23 record.