Before their road to Reno hit its end, the Wildcats were riding high. They had a first-round bye in the tournament after a 20-win regular season. However, despite their regular season success, the neutral site tournament proved too much for WSU to handle.
In a game that was over long before the buzzer rang out, the University of Northern Colorado Bears dropped the Weber State University Wildcats 80–55 in the Big Sky Conference quarterfinals.
The loss is the worst ever for head coach Randy Rahe in the Big Sky Conference tournament and is tied for the team’s worst loss in the tournament with their loss to Montana in 1997. It was the final career game for seniors Ryan Richardson and Dusty Baker, unless the team is selected for a postseason tournament.
Rahe said, “We recruit to our culture, and those two guys are the poster children for what Weber State basketball is all about. High character, competitive, good people.”
After a few quick baskets for the Wildcats, the first half turned in favor of the Bears. Weber State held a 7–5 lead before embarking on a scoring drought that lasted over five minutes.
WSU broke the drought with a layup from sophomore point guard Jerrick Harding, which brought the score to 19–9 in favor of Northern Colorado.
This was just the beginning of the struggles in the first half. Another four-minute field goal drought allowed the Bears to pull forward 34–22 by the time the second drought was snapped with a layup and-one by junior forward Brekkot Chapman.
The Bears first half domination came from a combination of red-hot shooting and swarming defense, putting them comfortably ahead at 42–26 by the break. The Wildcats committed seven turnovers in the first half, four from Harding, two from freshman Michal Kozak and one from Chapman that the Bears turned into 12 points.
The Bears had two scorers in double-digits: redshirt senior Andre Spight had 17 points and redshirt sophomore Jonah Radebough had 11 points. Chapman was the only Wildcat to reach double figures, with 11 points on nine shots. The Wildcats also shot 14.3 percent from 3-point range in the first half, compared to 54.5 percent by Northern Colorado.
The second half was more of the same, as the Wildcats failed to find open looks on offense while their defense was carved up and down the court by the Bears whether they were on a fast break or playing a half-court offense.
After one quick basket to start the second half, the team went on it’s third prolonged drought of the game. This time it was a nearly eight-minute drought from the field that featured six missed shots by the ’Cats. Chapman’s 3-pointer, the team’s second of the game, ended the drought and brought the score to 61–35 in favor of UNCO.
Chapman said, “In those situations we just try to come together and get the ball moving and we struggled to do that tonight. Props to Northern Colorado, they played really well and took us out of our stuff.”
Nothing went right for WSU. When the Wildcats made three straight baskets, the Bears did as well. The Bears led by as much as 29 in the game before ultimately taking the 80–55 win.
This was the first win for the Bears against Weber State in the tenure of head coach Jeff Linder. Linder was an assistant with the Wildcats under Rahe from 2006 to 2008.
Linder said, “It’s hard playing against a great friend and a mentor. A guy that gave me my first opportunity at the division one level and you never want to play against friends, you never want to beat friends, but I am glad to kind of get the monkey off my back.”
The Bears had lost all four of their previous matchups with the Wildcats since Linder signed on with Northern Colorado. Chapman and Harding tied for the team lead in points with 18 points apiece while Chapman also led the team with 12 rebounds.
Chapman also led the team with five blocks, the seventh most of any player in a single game in Big Sky Conference history. The Wildcats distributed the ball evenly, with five different Wildcats sharing the team lead with one assist. In his final game, barring a tournament appearance, Baker scored five points and was third on the team with three rebounds.
Richardson failed to score in the game, missing all six of his shots, but he grabbed three rebounds and getting one steal. While the season is most likely over, the team is left to ruminate on this loss until next season begins, unless they’re chosen to participate in a postseason tournament.
Chapman said, “This one hurts a lot.”