The Weber State Wildcats fell victim to two college basketball cliches during the game on March 11, which resulted in a 80–75 loss against the Montana Grizzlies. The first? When playing against your rival, overall records no longer matter. The second? Anything can happen in March.
Heading into their matchup against the Grizzlies, most around the league expected the Wildcats to cruise into the next round and battle against the second-seeded Eastern Washington Eagles. But WSU was chilled by a cold shooting night, which caused them to fall into a hole that proved to be too deep to overcome.
On 58 shot attempts, Weber knocked down 25 of them, which is only 43%. From beyond the arc, the struggles were even more prevalent, as they went 7–23, which is only 30%. Despite those numbers, four players scored in double figures and the Wildcats were able to put 75 points on the board.
“It wasn’t our offense tonight; it was our defense,” Head Coach Randy Rahe said. “We had a hard time keeping them in front of us, and that’s basically what it came down to. They were able to get to the rim quite a bit with the speed and quickness of their guards.”
In the opening half, WSU’s offense was stagnant until senior forward Cody Carlson took over and pitched in 14 points on 5–6 shooting from the field while also showing off his shooting touch and going 2–2 from 3-point range.
Outside of Carlson’s efforts, the opening half of the game was sloppy from both sides, as Weber State struggled to generate good looks on the offensive end, and Montana was unable to hold onto the ball, piling up 11 turnovers.
After 20 minutes of action, the arch rivals were knotted at 34 apiece, and a hectic half would soon follow.
The Grizzlies came out of the locker room and immediately took control of the game, as they scored on their first possession and were able to match the Wildcats in the scoring department and eventually string together stops.
It quickly became evident that Montana was on their way to jumping out to a big lead, and with 6:46, Montana’s freshman guard Robby Beasley, who finished with 23 points, canned a 3-pointer to put his squad up 63–49, and the rout was suddenly on in Idaho.
Or so it seemed.
What ensued was Weber State dialing in and mounting a comeback that seemed improbable due to the amount of what felt like back-breaking plays every time WSU pulled a bit closer.
With 2:49 left in the game, Beasley hit again from beyond the arc and gave his team a 72–59 lead, but it was answered with a three-pointer from senior guard Isiah Brown, which prompted a WSU timeout.
When action resumed, Beasley was sent to the free-throw line, where he split them and brought the score to 73–62. On the ensuing possession, WSU freshman forward Dillon Jones went to the foul line and knocked down both.
Seconds later, junior guard Zahir Porter drilled a shot from beyond the arc, and suddenly, the deficit was only 73–67. Montana was able to convert on a layup on the other end, but before anyone could blink, WSU sophomore guard Seikou Sisoho Jawara knocked down a 3-pointer. The Wildcats were then down 75–70.
After forcing a turnover, the Wildcats raced down to the other end and Porter fired a 3-pointer, falling down in the process. The referees went to the review monitor and awarded the Grizzlies a technical free throw because they felt that Porter had flopped after already receiving a flop-warning in the opening half.
Montana sank the free throw, the Wildcats got the ball back and it was Sisoho Jawara who was back on the board after a layup in the paint which cut the lead to 76–72.
Of course in college basketball, with March comes madness, which is the perfect description for the final minute of this game.
The Wildcats elected to defend without fouling due to there being 1:13 left on the clock, and that decision proved to be a good one after a Montana miss from 3-point range.
Brown collected the rebound but came down and threw up a miss of his own from three. Montana got the rebound but quickly turned it over while trying to control it, and Brown again missed from beyond the arc. The miss was boarded by Jones, who got the ball to Sisoho Jawara, who tickled the twine to cut the lead down to 76–75.
On the following inbounds play, WSU seemingly forced a five-second violation after none of the Grizzlies were able to get open, but the referees awarded a timeout to the Montana sideline, which triggered a visibly upset reaction from the Wildcat bench.
After the short break, Montana was able to get the ball in play, and Weber State was forced to foul. At the free-throw line, the Grizzlies sank both and the score was 78–75.
With an opportunity to tie the game, the ball went into the hot hands of Sisoho Jawara, who tried to create separation and put up a three, but the shot was blocked and rebounded by Montana, who iced the game at the free-throw line, sealing an 80–75 upset victory over Weber State.
The Wildcats’ leaders on offense were Sisoho Jawara and Carlson with 18 each, then Jones with 13 and lastly Brown with 10.
The Wildcats finish the Big Sky tournament without winning a game but took leaps forward after going 12–20 in the previous season. This year, the Wildcats conclude their season with a record of 17–6 and an undefeated record on their home floor.
“We changed our roster this year, brought in nine new guys, and I think they bought into our program, bought into our culture and did everything we asked them to do,” Rahe said. “It wasn’t easy, but I’m proud of our guys … nine guys had to come together and figure things out and they did it. Tonight was a tough night … overall, I’m really proud of this team, and I love these guys to death.”