Wildcats prepare for Big Sky tournament

(Photo By Tyler Brown) Scott Bamforth drives to the hoop during  a recent game.
(Photo By Tyler Brown)
Scott Bamforth drives to the hoop during
a recent game.

This Thursday, the Weber State University men’s basketball team will play its first game of the Big Sky Conference tournament in Missoula, Mont., against Northern Arizona University.

In the two meetings during the regular season, WSU knocked off the Lumberjacks 83-70 in Ogden and 80-78 in overtime earlier this month in Arizona. Should the Wildcats win, they will face the highest-ranked remaining team in the semifinals.

Earlier this month, WSU nearly fell to NAU in Flagstaff, Ariz. The Lumberjacks held a seven-point lead with 1:08 left to play, but the Wildcats mounted a comeback and closed out regulation play on an 11-4 run, which forced overtime. WSU was able to knock off NAU in the overtime period.

Head coach Randy Rahe said that while some people are talking about a WSU rematch against the University of Montana in the final again this year, he expects his team to take things game by game, starting with NAU.

“If they don’t have our attention, there’s something wrong with us. There are some things we’ve got to do better, and obviously that’s going to be a tough game.”

Last season, WSU faced UM in the championship game and lost, but Rahe said he’s not concerned about that.

“Every year is different,” Rahe said. “What the teams did three years ago has no effect on this team, because these guys didn’t play. A lot of these guys didn’t play last year. We played really hard up there and we played really tough and we played really stupid . . . but we still gave ourselves a chance to win.”

Overall, Rahe said, he thought the team had a great year and, in some ways, did better than he expected. He said he was a little disappointed WSU didn’t win the conference title, but was still pleased with the Wildcats’ season and thinks they can perform well this week in Montana.

“If you would have told me back in October that we’d be 18-2 and didn’t win the league,” Rahe said, “I would have been shocked. Our kids have had a phenomenal season. It’s tough, but you’ve got to give Montana some credit. They did what they had to do, but it doesn’t take away what our kids did.”

WSU enters the Big Sky Championship leading the nation in three statistical categories. The Wildcats are the only team in the nation to lead their conference in three categories. WSU is first in field-goal percentage, 3-point field-goal percentage and 3-point field-goal percentage defense. WSU’s Scott Bamforth ranks ninth in the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage.

Thursday’s game could see a lot of 3-pointers being taken, on top of WSU’s high percentage. NAU senior Gabe Rogers is coming into the Big Sky Championship with 245 career 3-pointers He ranks sixth all-time in Big Sky history, and is just one away from tying Damian Lillard for fifth place.

Bamforth enters the tourney with 228 career 3-pointers, which ranks 10th in Big Sky history. Rogers has made 93 3-pointers this season, which is tied for eighth-most in single-season history. The University of Northern Colorado’s Tate Unruh has made 87 3-pointers, which is tied for 11th all-time.

Thursday’s game will be available to watch online on www.bigskytv.org. The championship game will be broadcast on ESPNU.