OGDEN Being the regular season champion and earning the right to host the Big Sky Tournament is something every coach in the league sets as a goal.
If that can't happen, as is the case for all but one team, many view finishing third a better option than getting the first-round bye that comes with the second seed.
Third-place finishers may have to win an extra game to reach the NCAA tournament, but that game is at home and can sometimes serve as a springboard of momentum.
Weber State certainly hopes that is the case tonight as it hosts Montana State in the Big Sky quarterfinals. Tipoff at the Dee Events Center is set for 7 p.m.
"It's a brand new season for everyone now, so what's happened the last couple weeks doesn't really matter," WSU coach Randy Rahe said. "Everyone now has the 'fight or flight' response running through their bodies."
The Wildcats, though, have been playing fairly well the last couple of weeks and have won three of their last four games dropping only a tight contest down the stretch at second-seeded Northern Arizona.
WSU, which finished the season with only one player, senior guard Dezmon Harris, scoring more than 10 points a game, brings a balanced offense and an increasingly stingy defense into tonight's game.
They will need it against a Bobcats team that, despite losing both regular season games, has played the Wildcats as tough as any opponent.
MSU features one of the best scoring weapons in the league in Carlos Taylor. The powerful shooting guard pours in 18.3 points per game and can explode with flurries of baskets by slashing to the hoop and getting fouled.
Brody Van Brocklin and Harris will draw the task of slowing Taylor down.
Also of concern for Rahe is preventing another first-half lapse in concentration like the one that happened in the regular season finale at Sacramento State.
The game really didn't matter in the big picture, but Rahe was unhappy with the way his team performed in the first half. Playing against a team that had given up on the season several weeks prior, the Wildcats fell behind by 10 points in the first half.
"That game scared me to death," Rahe said, "and after the first half my fears were pretty much founded."
Coming out of the break WSU crushed the Hornets, winning by 20 points and setting a tone Rahe hopes carries into tonight.
"Juan Pablo (Silveira) and Trevor Morris were real keys to our second-half surge," Rahe said. "I really think the key to winning tournament games is the play you get off the bench, and we had that last Saturday."Should the Wildcats use home-court advantage the way they have all season, losing only to NAU and Utah, they'll advance to the semifinals in Portland where they will face the Lumberjacks.
Wildcats on the air
Weber State (15-13, 10-6 Big Sky) vs. Montana State (15-14, 7-9)
Dee Events Center
Tonight, 7 p.m.
GAME NOTES: As the third seed, Weber State earned the right to host a quarterfinal game ... The Wildcats swept the Bobcats in the regular season ... WSU forward Arturas Valeika was named 1st team all-Big Sky after averaging 9.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.
E-mail: [email protected]