It wasn’t pretty, but Weber State University got the job done. The men’s basketball team knocked off the University of Northern Iowa to advance to the CollegeInsider.com championship.
WSU knocked off the Panthers 59-56 on Saturday night.
Head coach Randy Rahe said he was proud of the way WSU battled in a tough game on the road.
“This was an extremely tough game against a really physical and talented team in a tough environment,” Rahe said. “We played really tough and really hard, and I was so proud of how we fought.”
The Wildcats worked the ball around the arc on their first possession, showing strong passing skills as they quickly moved the ball before going inside to Frank Otis, who hit an inside shot. On the next possession, Davion Berry hit a three from the corner to push WSU’s lead to seven points.
Five minutes into the game, UNI had yet to score a point as WSU’s lead was pushed to 11 points. Anthony James got the Panthers on the board at the 14-minute mark with an inside jumper. UNI then went on a bit of a run, cutting the WSU lead to four points midway through the first half.
Jake Cook pulled the Panthers within three points seven and a half minutes before halftime. Three minutes before the half, UNI pulled within two points. The Wildcats managed to put in a little more breathing room, extending their lead to seven points at the break.
Four minutes into the first half, Kyle Tresnak picked up his third foul of the game as the Panthers cut WSU’s lead to five points. A minute later, the lead was down to two points. The Wildcats struggled to make a basket while UNI continued its run, and eventually UNI took its first lead of the game with 14 minutes remaining.
Otis took the lead back for WSU after a long stretch of the Wildcats failing to score for several minutes.
Otis said after the game that he knew it was going to be a tough game and expected a physical challenge from UNI.
“It was a really physical game and was a battle until the end,” Otis said. “This is one of the best teams we’ve played all year, and we were able to fight through it all. This is a confidence-boost for us to beat a talented team like this. We are really excited to be going back home to play for the championship.”
The Panthers continued to push WSU, keeping the score close. WSU wasn’t able to pull away and continued to struggle missing shots and turning the ball over. UNI tied the game up again at 49 with 8:25 left in the game. With just less than six minutes remaining, UNI went up 55-53.
Rahe said mistakes hurt the team in the second half and put the players under pressure late in the game.
“We missed some shots, but kept fighting and found a way to do it against a really tough opponent,” Rahe said. “I’m so proud of our team for not giving up. It’s been a remarkable run, and 30 wins is a phenomenal accomplishment.”
WSU struggled with fouls throughout the game and, with seven minutes remaining, the Wildcats had nine team fouls. Tresnak had four fouls at that point and Berry had three. Overall, WSU struggled in the second half. On top of their foul problems, the Wildcats had a 27 percent shooting average for much of the half.
Berry had a key play for WSU with four minutes remaining. WSU was tied at 55, and Berry got the ball at the corner of arc. He drove inside, cut back and hit a fade-away jumper to retake the lead for the Wildcats.
With one minute remaining in regulation, WSU held a one-point lead. A hectic stretch of play ensued: WSU missed a shot, then UNI took the ball down the court and missed two shots before the ball went out of bounds. After that, WSU was able to extend its lead thanks to two foul shots by Jordan Richardson, which sealed the game for the Wildcats.
With the win, WSU will advance to the CIT championship game, which will be held on Tuesday at the Dee Events Center. The Wildcats will face off against East Carolina University.