Less than three weeks ago, Weber State was sporting a glossy 15-6 record and coming off a sweep of the Montana schools - in Montana.

Heading into Thursday's 9 p.m. first-round Big Sky Conference tournament game against Nevada-Reno in Boise, the Wildcats are trying to regroup from a stretch of four losses in five games.

Not that Coach Denny Huston is worried. He says the losses are largely attributable to a tough schedule. But the fact is that during that stretch the Wildcats lost on the road to a weak Idaho State team and lost at home to the same Montana team they had beaten in Missoula two weeks before.

And then, last Saturday, the 'Cats ran into that Midwestern steamroller, the Akron Zips. True, it was a meaningless nonconference contest on a good team's homecourt, but - 92-50? And Rico Washington, the Big Sky scoring and rebounding leader, failed to be Weber State's leading scorer for the first time all season. In foul trouble much of the game, Washington managed just five points on 1-of-5 shooting from the field.

But all that is history as the Wildcats prepare for the Wolf Pack, a team that lost its leading scorer Wednesday when Coach Len Stevens announced that Darryl Owens was suspended following his arrest on a misdemeanor battery charge.

Of course, Owens' departure offers no comfort to Huston. "Normally, what occurs when such an adversity hits your ball club is it brings your ballclub closer together," he said. "I'm expecting a much more inspired Reno ball club because of that than if they had all the horses there. Now, my job is to sell that idea to my players."

In the regular season, Weber State split with Nevada-Reno, losing in Reno by two, then winning in Ogden by four. "In the game at Reno, we missed some shots in close that we normally don't miss," Huston said. "Here, we made those shots."

One key against Reno, Huston said, is the pace of the game. "We have to play faster than we would like to play against them. If we can get ahead early and dictate the tempo, it will make it easier."

Huston looks at playing in Boise as something of an advantage for the 'Cats. Weber State is the only visiting team to win there this season, having upset league-leader Boise State 60-59 in January.

As for the Wildcats' chances to win the entire tournament, Huston is realistic. "We are going to have to be very fortunate," he said. "And somebody on our team is going to have to play above what our expectation level is of them."

In the other first-round game, Montana State, 6-10, takes on Montana, 11-5, at 6:30 p.m. Montana pounded the Bobcats by 19 and 21 points during the regular season, and should handle their in-state rivals easily.

On Friday, Idaho will face the winner of the Montana-Montana state game at 7 p.m. Idaho split with Montana this season, both teams winning by double-figure margins on their homecourts, so this could be the night's best game.

The other Friday game involves the winner of the Weber State vs. Nevada-Reno game against Boise State. The Broncos were 13-3 in conference play but only won four of those games by more than 10 points, largely because of their slowdown style of play. And that could make it easier for some team to pull off an upset.