The shot heard around Missoula

Weber State Men’s Basketball Guard position 11, Steven Verplancken.

The Big Sky Conference is no stranger to deeply-rooted rivalries. However, few match the history and passion surrounding Weber State University and the University of Montana men’s basketball.

“I took a visit to Montana before I came to Weber this past spring,” Wildcat guard Steven Verplancken Jr. said. “I could feel the rivalry between the two and how we don’t like each other and people know that. It’s not a secret. I knew how much it meant and also just how hard of a game it would be at Montana.”

The two schools’ men’s basketball programs have been competing against each other since 1963, with Weber State winning the first match 89–79. Montana has won 62 games against the Wildcats, while Weber State just captured their 75th win against the Grizzlies on Jan. 12 after a classic bout.

Playing in Missoula, Montana, the Wildcats were down 57–56 with under five seconds left. Trying to find someone to inbound the ball to, Montana guard Lonnell Martin Jr. scrambled under the basket. Martin tried to connect with forward Dischon Thomas, who scored 11 points that night.

Defending the pass, Weber State forward Dyson Koehler stole the ball and ran to the free-throw line. Falling, Koehler passed the ball out to Verplancken, who was set up beyond the arc.

“You don’t prepare yourself in that specific moment for that,” Verplancken said. “It’s like all the reps that come before that. It’s like all the 5-a.m.’s, all the late nights at the gym in the summer, all the Friday nights at the Dee. It’s the moments that prepare you and make you feel confident.”

With three seconds left, Verplancken’s jump shot used the back of the rim and rolled down the net for the game-ending 3-pointer, leaving one second on the clock.

“I think that’s like a big skill with all the great players is you have to see yourself doing that at that stage, at that level,” Verplancken said. “I saw Dyson grab the ball out of the air and I just ran to the three and I was like, ‘If I catch it, it’s going in.’ As soon as I caught it, I caught it good, and felt good and I knew it was going in.”

The Wildcats walked out of Missoula with a 59–57 win over the Grizzlies. Verplancken finished the game with 12 points.

“It’s a big win for us,” Verplancken said. “You go through Montana, you at least try to split with Montana and Montana State. To get away from that atmosphere with a win on their home floor, that’s just really good.”

Weber State is currently ranked No. 4 in the Big Sky with a 3–2 in-conference record. Trying to win their first conference championship since 2016, the Wildcats hit a road bump against Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, with a 67–52 loss on Jan. 14.

Despite a few tough losses, Weber State’s new coach and young roster have shown flashes of greatness this season, proving they’re able to step up during big games.

“We gave ourselves a chance down the stretch at Utah State. We gave ourselves a chance down the stretch and we won. Montana: we gave ourselves a chance and we won,” Verplancken said. “If we compete and I think if we lock in, we can beat anybody.”

Weber State will be back in the Dee Events Center on Jan. 19 to take on Portland State University at 7 p.m.