Coming off of its largest win of the season Thursday, the Weber State University men’s basketball team finished its four-game home stand with a hard-fought win over conference rival the University of Montana. The Wildcats defeated the Grizzlies 68-63 on Saturday.
“Montana has a good basketball team,” said WSU head coach Randy Rahe. “They have a lot of veterans that have won a lot of games. Those kids came in and fought like crazy tonight. We knew it was going to be a tough game. I’m proud of our guys.”
The Wildcats lost to the Grizzlies in the final games of the last two seasons. But this UM team is very different from teams of the past. It came in with a record of 3-4 in the Big Sky Conference. The game was as competitive as ever.
“It’s no secret that Montana and us are rivals,” said WSU senior Davion Berry. “They played Montana basketball. It’s going to be a battle no matter what the record is, no matter what their record is, no matter what our record is. You have to get up and play each game.”
The Grizzlies put the pressure on the Wildcats early, forcing them into outside shots early on, many of which were off the mark. UM took advantage of the WSU misses, quickly jumping out to an 8-3 lead.
The Wildcats continued to feed the ball inside to their big men, and they were rewarded with a few trips to the free-throw line, keeping them in the game. With five minutes gone in the half, the Wildcats trailed just 10-8.
The Wildcats captured their first lead on a 3-pointer from freshman Jeremy Senglin. The game went back and forth for several minutes with the teams trading buckets and leads. There were seven lead changes in the first half.
The Wildcats got early help from their bench, especially from freshman Kyndahl Hill. Hill provided seven quick points to push the Wildcat lead to five.
“We were struggling scoring a little bit,” Rahe said. “We needed someone to give us a spark. Kyndahl has been playing pretty good for a freshman. He has a chance to be a pretty damn good player. He was huge.”
The Grizzlies answered with five straight of their own, tying the game at 24-24. It then turned into the Berry Show. Berry scored six of the last eight points of the half for WSU. The Wildcats took a 34-30 lead into the half.
Berry led all scorers with 14 points going into the half. Bolomboy added six points and five rebounds for WSU.
“I just felt like I needed to make plays,” Berry said, “whether that’s scoring, passing, rebounding or just being a great leader out there. I just wanted to dive into it for my teammates.”
Senior Kareem Jamar led the Grizzlies with 10 points. UM made its first four threes of the game, shooting 80 percent from behind the line in the first half.
The Wildcats hit a cold spell to start the second half. They missed all of their shots in the first six minutes. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies brought themselves right back into the game, scoring six straight to take the lead. The streak was broken by Berry, who made a difficult scoop shot to tie the game back up.
“(Berry) did an outstanding job,” Rahe said. “It wasn’t just his offense. I think defensively he stayed locked in, even when he wasn’t receiving any breaks in the second half. He showed a lot of toughness tonight.”
The next five minutes were a shootout. Both teams were stroking it from behind the arc. The Wildcats held on to a slim lead of two points with eight minutes left in the game.
The Wildcats pushed the lead to eight after getting stops on the defensive end and getting to the line on the offensive end. Both teams were in the bonus early in the half.
The game tightened up late as the Grizzlies cut the lead to four. The Wildcats responded with a defensive stop, and it all came down to free throws. The Wildcats made enough to get their sixth-straight win.
Berry led all scorers once again, finishing with 25 points. Bolomboy added 12 points and a career-high 19 rebounds. Jamar had 20 for UM.
“I didn’t know I had as many as I did at the end of the night, but I knew I had a lot,” said Bolomboy of his rebounding total. “I was just chasing every rebound I could.”
The Wildcats will now travel to Flagstaff, Ariz., on Thursday to face Northern Arizona University. Game time is set for 6:30 p.m. The game can be heard on 1430 AM or 103.1 FM.