Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Freshman Mike Brown (right) of the Weber State Wildcats shoots the final three point shot at the buzzer over Martin Whitmore of Portland State during the second half of play at the Dee Events Center in Ogden Thursday, February 5, 2012. Weber State defeated Portland State, 92-79. Brown scored the three in the only 11.5 seconds he was in the game.
They lost a lot of people from last year but, at the end of the day, they're still the defending champs. —Junior guard Scott Bamforth

OGDEN — What a difference a year makes.

In February 2011, the University of Northern Colorado men's basketball team was well on its way to winning the Big Sky Conference championship and earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament. And Weber State was struggling just to try and earn a berth in the Big Sky postseason tournament.

A year later, the Bears are limping along with a lousy, losing record and the Wildcats are leading the league at this juncture.

Thus, the stage is set for Saturday's Big Sky matchup between Weber State and UNC, who meet for the first time this season in a 5 p.m. tipoff at the Dee Events Center.

The Wildcats are coming in off a 92-79 victory over Portland State on Thursday night, when junior guard Damian Lillard poured in 40 points in another superb performance for the national scoring leader. His current scoring average of 25.1 points per game is the best in school history.

Junior guard Scott Bamforth added 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in a solid all-around effort Thursday, and he says the Wildcats can't afford to look past the Bears despite their struggles this season.

"They lost a lot of people from last year but, at the end of the day, they're still the defending champs," said Bamforth, who beat the Bears 72-71 on a 40-foot buzzer-beater in last year's game played at Ogden. "They're really scrappy."

With Thursday's 73-62 loss at Sacramento State, Northern Colorado has now lost four of its last five games, and the Bears are just 2-7 on the road this season. They are 0-5 all-time in games played at the Dee Events Center, where the Wildcats are 12-0 this season.

The Bears lead the Big Sky and rank third in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage, shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc, while the Wildcats rank sixth in the nation in 3-point shooting.

"The No. 1 thing they can do is they shoot the 3 as well as anybody, well, better than anybody in our league," WSU coach Randy Rahe. "Every one of their perimeter guys can absolutely shoot the tar out of it. They're in the top five in 3-point field goal percentage in the country. … They've got a very talented team and they're really hard to guard."

Today's game marks Weber State's 700th Big Sky regular-season game in school history. The Wildcats are 464-235 (.664) all-time in Big Sky play with the most wins and best winning percentage of any other Big Sky school.

Email: rhollis@desnews.com

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