With a semifinal matchup with the Montana Grizzlies on the line, the fourth seed Weber State Wildcats tipped off against the fifth seed Portland State Vikings Thursday afternoon at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, Idaho. WSU came away with an 81–71 victory in their first game of the Big Sky Conference tournament.
The Vikings entered Thursday’s matinee having won seven of their last eight games and the Wildcats and Vikings split the season series.
PSU head coach Barret Peery’s defense came out aggressive in full court pressure as the Vikings jumped out to a 6–0 lead before freshman guard Israel Barnes could cash in the Wildcats first bucket of the quarterfinal.
“When you play a team like that, they play such a different style than anyone in our league,” head coach Randy Rahe said. “The full court pressure and they just basically make you abandon your system. We gotta be strong with the ball and I thought our guys did that today.”
After a few crafty plays, junior guard Jerrick Harding found himself with 11 points and the Wildcats had their first lead of the ball game eight minutes into the first half.
Both teams found themselves in foul trouble and in the bonus as they continued to play physical and aggressive before the midway point of the half.
“You have to take it one possession at a time,” junior guard Cody John said. “You gotta keep grinding it out, it’s going to be a grind, everyone is fighting to stay alive.”
As Brekkott Chapman found his rhythm, the Wildcats found themselves with a 28–21 lead forcing Peery and the Vikings to call a timeout. The senior guard keyed an 11–4 run with a three-pointer and grabbing rebounds against the nation’s leading offensive rebounding squad in PSU.
Portland State controlled the final three minutes of the half, as junior forward Jamie Orme scored six points in a spurt to even it up at 34 entering the half.
As the teams came out of their tunnels both fan bases brought them out with loud cheers including a “Weber State” chant between the band and WSU cheering section.
John got the second half scoring started with a jumper, then Chapman and Harding made from the field giving WSU a 7–0 run out of the gates.
The Wildcats continued to put the pressure on, finding themselves with the largest lead of the afternoon as they made it a 14–4 run to start the half.
Chapman continued his impressive half on the glass, stuffing PSU’s Sal Nuhu on a dunk attempt. John then hit a three-pointer to bring the Wildcat fans to their feet.
The ’Cats continued to play tough, as Chapman dished the ball to senior center Zach Braxton, who threw down a two hand slam and drew a foul to make it a three point play.
Weber State’s defense kept Portland State scoreless through a four minute stretch midway through the second half and Chapman’s aggressive play on the glass kept the Vikings from obtaining offensive rebounds.
“It always takes an adjustment period to start the game,” Rahe said. “We got to get used to the speed and the aggressiveness, and I thought our guys adjusted to it really good especially in the second half.”
As the Wildcats continued to pull ahead fouls kept coming. Portland State’s Robert McCoy was called on a flagrant causing the Vikings section to roar in a boo.
WSU continued to press on the gas, taking down the Vikings for the seventh time against no defeats in the Big Sky Tournament by a final 81–71.
Weber State will take on the University of Montana Friday night. The Griz defeated the ‘Cats twice in the regular season. In both contests, Montana jumped out to a lead of twenty or more points in the first half before the Wildcats nearly rallied to win.
“They are older,” Rahe said. “They are the fifth oldest team in country with a bunch of good players, and we are going to embrace it. They are the best team in the league and thats what we want.”
The Wildcats will tip off against the Grizzlies at 5:30 p.m. at CenturyLink Arena.
“I’m excited,” Harding said. “We all want them.”