'Cats knock off rival to improve to 6-0 in conference

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Weber State University’s Kyle Bullinger drives down the court during WSU’s 80-64 win over the University of Montana on Saturday. The Wildcats are now the top team in the Big Sky Conference. They are 14-3 overall, and 6-0 in conference play.

Weber State University men’s basketball team became the only undefeated team in Big Sky Conference play when it knocked off the University of Montana Grizzlies 80-64 on Saturday at the Dee Events Center.

WSU guard Scott Bamforth said that UM played well and was a tough challenge, but the Wildcats were able to pull through in the end.

“They’re a really, really good team, and we all know that, so we knew they were going to make a run,” Bamforth said. “You never plan for it, you try to not let it happen, but it happened, and we just tried to stick together.”

The opening minutes of the game were fast paced as both teams tried to get the early advantage. Four minutes into the game, the Grizzlies held a slight lead at 8-7.

Lillard started to heat up, scoring five quick points to give the Wildcats a 12-10 lead with 14 minutes to go in the half.

Lillard got the crowd on their feet with 12 minutes to go in the half. He pulled down a defensive rebound, drove the length of the court and hit a difficult layup, drawing the foul.

Byron Fulton gave the Wildcats a six point lead when he hit a three halfway through the first half.

With 5:20 in the half, the Wildcats built their lead to 10 points for the first time of the night, going up 35-25 on a tip-in shot.

WSU was helped in the first half by its bench. Freshman Gelaun Wheelwright came off the bench and made a few plays, which helped the Wildcats take control over the Grizzlies.

Frank Otis, who was playing in his first game since December, also came off the bench halfway through the first half and immediately made an impact. He scored a quick seven points and helped WSU to a 49-36 lead at halftime.

Head Coach Randy Rahe said WSU’s bench players made the difference in the game, giving the team a spark when it needed it.

“I thought the difference of the game was our bench and the way they contributed,” Rahe said. “Montana played really tough as they always do.  We made some defensive stops and fought really hard on the defensive end.  I was proud of the way we fought and our mindset.”

Lillard led WSU in the first half with 16 points.

The Wildcats went into halftime on top, and Lillard said the memory of the Big Sky Championship game two years ago, when WSU blew a large halftime lead to the Grizzlies, helped motivate the team to finish the job after halftime.

“I just let the guys know, we’ve got to kind of step on them, keep them down and don’t let it turn into a dogfight because last time that happened, we ended up losing the Big Sky Championship,” Lillard said. “I think the guys took it in, and they competed even harder.”

In the second half, UM was able to cut into the Wildcat lead and trimmed the lead to 11 points with nine minutes left in the game. Throughout the second half, the Grizzlies tried to cut into the WSU lead but were never able to get closer than eight points.

With the win, the Wildcats improved to 6-0 in Big Sky Conference play and 14-3 on the season. WSU will remain at home when it takes on Northern Arizona University on Thursday.