After seven years of coming so close so many times and falling short, the Weber State University men’s basketball players are Big Sky champions once again and will head to the NCAA Tournament, as they dominated the University of North Dakota by a score of 88-67 in the Big Sky Championship on Saturday. Senior center Kyle Tresnak led the way for the Wildcats with 27 points and five rebounds, while tournament MVP Davion Berry had 19 points and four assists.
“It’s about time we get back!” said WSU head coach Randy Rahe. “I’m really excited for these kids.”
WSU has been in the Big Sky Championship game four times in the last five years, not including this year.
“I’ve been waiting four years for this,” Tresnak said. “No words can explain the feelings I have right now.”
The Wildcats started out the game on fire, making all of their first six shots to jump out to a 10-4 lead. In the half, WSU shot a red-hot 58 percent from the field, including 53 percent from downtown. UND did its best to stay with the Wildcats, shooting a respectable 45 percent in the half.
“These guys were confident,” Rahe said. “We had great looks to start off with, and it was kind of a roller coaster. When the first couple of guys start to make their shots, I think everyone else felt like it was our night.”
WSU would have only been up by seven at the half had it not been for the tournament MVP knocking down a 3-pointer to beat the buzzer and take a 44-34 lead. After the shot, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard was there to high-five Berry as they headed into the locker room. The reigning NBA Rookie of The Year and first-time all-star chartered a flight from Portland to see his former teammates contend for the title, despite having a home game the next day against the Golden State Warriors.
“That’s my brother,” said Berry of Lillard. “We’ve been together since we were little. I just wanted to get it for my brother.”
In the second half, there was the feeling that UND would inevitably make a run, but it never came. Any time UND tried to make a run, the Wildcats responded and matched whatever UND threw at them. UND never scored more than two consecutive baskets in the second half without WSU scoring as well. UND’s shooting percentage dropped significantly to 34 percent in the half, giving it a game average of 39 percent.
WSU continued to have the hot hand, shooting 55 percent from the field and 33 percent from 3-point range. A 6-0 run topped off by Tresnak with 2.5 minutes to go to make the score 86-63 emphatically sealed the deal.
Tresnak worked hard to get his 27 points in the paint, netting 21 of them in the second half.
The Wildcats were unstoppable on the offensive end. When Tresnak wasn’t being double-teamed, he had his way in the paint. When UND did send a double team, Tresnak would kick out the rock to Berry, Jordan Richardson or Jeremy Senglin, who collectively shot 7 of 17 from beyond the arc.
“This team’s come as far as any that I’ve had at Weber State,” Rahe said. “They’re phenomenal kids to coach. Tremendous character, tremendous leadership from our seniors — they really carried us along.”
Despite leading the entire game, Tresnak wasn’t about to start celebrating until a timeout called after a proverbial dagger dunk with 2.5 minutes left in the game.
“That was the first time I actually felt like it was ours,” the graduating senior said. “It was joy that I finally have a Big Sky title and get to go to the NCAA Tournament.”
For Berry, the win was not just his teammates’ on the floor.
“It’s a great feeling to go back and win, and get one for (Lillard, Frank Otis and Scott Bamforth),” he said. All of those players had multiple championship appearances in the conference, but couldn’t get it done.
WSU will now play the University of Arizona on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in San Diego.