With an intense overtime win of 66-63 over the University of Northern Colorado on Friday, the Weber State University men’s basketball team headed to the Big Sky Championship on Saturday for the third year in a row, with an opportunity to punch its ticket to the big dance.
Davion Berry led the way for WSU with 15 points, seven of which came in overtime. UNC’s Derrick Barden led all scorers with 21 points and seven rebounds.
“I was really proud of our guys,” said WSU head coach Randy Rahe. “They showed a lot of resolve and a lot of grit.”
The first half was so tight that the biggest run was 8-0 by WSU, but it only gave the Wildcats a four-point lead. The biggest lead was six by WSU, but the Bears didn’t let the game get out of their hands. The half finished with a low score of 27-24.
The Wildcats came out strong in the second half and were able to build their lead to as high as 11 with a score of 48-37 with 9.5 minutes to go in the game.
But from there, the Wildcats only made two field goals for the rest of the half, allowing the Bears to go on an 18-7 run, topped off by Barden’s 3-pointer to tie it up with 1:51 to go. The Wildcats didn’t score a single point in the last four minutes of regulation, and neither team could get a bucket after the game was tied at 55 apiece.
After forcing a five-second violation on UNC, WSU had the ball with 46 seconds left to play. Senior center Kyle Tresnak had the ball on the left block, spanned his way into the lane and put up a jump-hook shot he has made hundreds of times, but it was too hard off the back of the iron. UNC had the last shot.
UNC senior Tate Unruh had the ball on the right side, took a screen and then got to a spot on the floor where a number of game-winning shots, like East Carolina University’s in the College Insider Tournament championship game a year ago and Quinton Upshur’s of Northern Arizona University this season, have been made.
The shot looked good, and for a moment, it seemed like WSU would once again be bitten by a last-second attempt. But Unruh’s long two-point attempt bounced off the back of the rim, and the game was decided in the first overtime period in a Big Sky semifinal game since 2006.
WSU seniors Berry and Jordan Richardson then took it upon themselves to win the game, as they were the only players to score for the Wildcats in the extra period.
“I’m the senior leader of the team,” Berry said. “I had to push through for my teammates.”
With two shots, Berry scored the first five points for WSU in the period. Richardson then added a 3-pointer to give WSU a seven-point lead. He knocked down a free throw after Barden hit a three of his own.
Then, with WSU hanging on to a one-point lead with 10 seconds to go, Berry drove down the right side and made a difficult layup over the larger 6-foot-8-inch Cody McDavis, making the score 66-63.
“I was determined to put the ball in the hole no matter what,” said Berry of his final shot.
UNC had the final play of the night to try to force another overtime. Jordan Wilson of UNC tried to get the ball to Unruh, but couldn’t get a good look as a result of the lockdown defense from the Wildcats. Wilson then had to take a straight-away 3-pointer, but it ricocheted off the glass and the rim as the horn went off.
“They’re one of the top teams in our league,” said Rahe of UNC. “We knew we were going to get their best shot, and we did.”
With the win, WSU went on the road for its fourth championship game appearance in five years.