Wildcats knock off Bears

[media-credit name=”Associated Press” align=”alignright” width=”256″][/media-credit]Despite a strong second half comeback from the University of Northern Colorado Bears, the Weber State University men’s basketball team held on for an 88-71 in its second-to-last game of the season.

The Wildcats came into the matchup against UNC tied with the University of Montana for the top spot and right to host the Big Sky Conference tournament. Damian Lillard said before the game the team knew the last two games of the season were crucial.

“It’s just a challenge,” Lillard said.  “. . . we like challenges. Everything depends on these last two games. If we win at Northern Colorado, everything will be on the line against Montana. I don’t think anyone on our team would have it any other way.”

Lillard finished the game with 30 points to lead all scorers on the night. He said the team came into the game knowing what they needed to do.

“It was fun,” Lillard said. “We needed to win and were able to come out with it.”

Kyle Tresnak got things started for the Wildcats on WSU’s first possession. The next time WSU had the ball, Kyle Bullinger hit a 3-pointer to give the ’Cats an early 5-0 lead.

WSU frustrated the Bears with tough defense, forcing two early turnovers, but UNC kept the score close throughout the first five minutes of the half.

Mike Proctor converted on two foul shots for the Bears to cut the WSU lead to one before Lillard answered with a 3-pointer to make it 10-6.

Throughout the first half, UNC struggled from deep, missing five straight attempts from beyond the arc.

With 10 minutes left in the half, the Wildcats had built their largest lead to that point, going up 22-10.

The Bears hit their first 3-pointer with eight minutes remaining in the half to cut the lead to nine.

UNC continued its comeback and cut the lead to three points with 6:05 left in the half. Tresnak answered back for WSU with his 12th point of the half to push the lead back to five points.

The Wildcats were able to fight back and took a one-point lead into the break.

Head Coach Randy Rahe said the team made a few adjustments to counter the way UNC was playing in the first half.

“We kept giving them different looks,” Rahe said, “and switching it up, with different looks and ball screens.”

In the first half, Lillard racked up 15 points, five assists and one steal. Tresnak contributed 12 points and Gelaun Wheelwright also had 11 points in the half.

The Bears came out hot and three minutes into the second half, cut the WSU lead to three points. For much of the second half, the score was tight. With 15 minutes left, WSU had a slight 57-54 lead.

As UNC was building momentum, Lillard hit a 3-pointer to give WSU a little breathing room. With 11 minutes left in the game, the Wildcats had pushed the lead to 10 points.

Scott Bamforth then hit his first 3-pointer of the night to extend the lead to 13 points. The Wildcats continued to push, and with five minutes remaining, WSU was up 74-59 over the Bears.

WSU will now wrap up the regular season when they take on UM on Tuesday in Montana. If the Wildcats win in Montana, they will host the Big Sky Conference tournament this year.

Rahe said the team is looking forward to the matchup against the Grizzlies and said the team will be prepared for a tough game.

“It’s going to be a great game and a fun game,” Rahe said. “We’re really excited about it.”