CHENEY, Wash. Weber State might be meeting up with an old friend, but don't expect too many hugs and kisses this Valentine's Day.
With only six games left on the regular season schedule, the Wildcats (12-10, 7-3 Big Sky) appear to be in a good position as they battle for seeding in the upcoming Big Sky Tournament. With only six of the conference's nine schools invited to play, WSU would love to avoid a road loss tonight against Eastern Washington.
The Eagles, just 4-8 in Big Sky play, are desperate for a win, however, as they try to climb the standings and qualify for a tourney berth.
"They are about 10 points away from being in second or third place right now," WSU coach Randy Rahe said, "and they still have a great chance to get into the Big Sky tournament."
EWU coach Kirk Earlywine, who spent several years at WSU as Joe Cravens' assistant coach, is in his first season as the Eagles' head coach and knows the importance of this weekend's games the last home games of the season for Eastern.
"We're backed into a corner and have to win," Earlywine said. "I don't think making the conference tournament is out of the question, but we have to win the game on Thursday. We have to treat that one as an elimination game, and in each game subsequent to that we will be facing the same situation."
Weber State took the first game of the season series with a 74-64 decision in Ogden. The trip to Cheney, though, has always been a difficult one for road teams.
The Wildcats are paced by seniors Dezmon Harris (11 ppg) and Arturas Valeika (10.5 ppg, 9.2 rpg). Harris scored 21 in last week's win over Northern Colorado and hit all five of his 3-point attempts. Valeika has seen his stats edge upward recently and had a solid 16-point, 14-rebound, 3-block effort against UNC.
"Weber State kind of handed it to us pretty good a month ago in Ogden," Earlywine said. "The only two league games for us that haven't gone down to the wire were Weber State and Montana. We did a good job of bouncing back against Montana and playing better than we did the first time. We have to do the same thing now against Weber State."
The Eagles are led by Kellen Williams' 13.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Adris DeLeon adds 12.4 points.
The Wildcats are in a bit of a funk themselves, winning every other game for the past three weeks to help the conference standings thicken up at the top. WSU is in second place currently, which would translate into a first-round tournament bye, but four teams are two games or less behind them in the standings.Portland State, which has won six in a row, sits alone atop the Big Sky at 8-2.
Wildcats on the air
Weber State (12-10, 7-3 Big Sky) at Eastern Washington (9-17, 4-8)
Tonight, 8 p.m.
GAME NOTES: Former WSU assistant coach Kirk Earlywine is the first-year head coach at EWU. ... The Eagles are struggling, but keep games close, losing five conference games by four points or less. ... Should WSU win, it will be playing for first place again at Portland State on Saturday.