OGDEN With the season winding down and a good seed in the upcoming Big Sky Conference tournament on the line, the last thing Weber State basketball coach Randy Rahe wanted to see was his team fall behind early.
Yet, that's exactly what happened as Weber State was down seven just a couple of minutes into the game. They actually trailed 2-0 before the game even started thanks to a technical foul assessed for dunking during warm-ups before Rahe questioned his squad's desire.
"I just told them it was up to them," Rahe said after a 76-67 win over Montana. "They had to show me they wanted it."
Arturas Valeika, in particular, wanted it.
The 6-foot-9 senior from Lithuania had a monster game with 20 rebounds and 16 points to power the Wildcats past the Grizzlies in a game that was close only on the scoreboard.
WSU (13-12, 8-5 Big Sky) responded to Rahe's challenge by rattling off a 30-3 rally that seemed to take the will right out of the Griz, who missed 19 of their final 21 shots in the first half.
Montana (12-14, 6-7) came into the game hobbling with a few injuries and dizzy from a sickness bug that had afflicted the team, but Rahe preferred to think the Wildcats were more responsible for the dominating 39-20 halftime edge.
"I like to think our kids attacked them," he said, "and put them on their heels."
The powerful inside duo of Andrew Strait and Jordan Hasquet had a difficult time containing WSU's tandem of Steve Panos and Valeika.
Panos added 13 points and six rebounds to complement his senior partner in the paint. In the first half, Valeika had 12 rebounds while Montana's entire roster had just nine.
"We just came out aggressive and guarded them as hard as we could," Valeika said. "Everything was clicking. All we had to do was be more aggressive."
Weber State had all five starters reach double figures, and sixth man Kellen McCoy added nine as the 'Cats' balanced effort was too much for Montana to overcome. After limiting the Griz to just 20 percent shooting in the first half, WSU held on to win the shooting battle with a 49 percent to 32.8 percent advantage. The Wildcats also won the battle on the boards, 43-35, despite a concerted effort in the second half from Montana to not mail in the rest of the game.
Valeika's 20-rebound performance, however, didn't impress the quiet player.
"Twenty. Oh, well," Valeika said. "Twenty is 20."
Rahe, on the other hand, was tickled.
"That's what we need right there. We'll take 20," Rahe shouted to his center in the tunnels below the Dee Event Center after the game.
"That was a monster game for him," Rahe said. "I don't care what level you're at, 20 rebounds is great."
Dezmon Harris added 16 points for WSU while Daviin Davis and Brody Van Brocklin each added 10.
The win keeps Weber State in position to take second place in the conference standings and potentially earn a first-round bye in the Big Sky tourney.First, though, the Wildcats need to take care of Montana State on Saturday before closing the regular season out on the road.