MISSOULA, Mont. - Weber State won its 13th straight game and advanced to the Big Sky Tournament championship game with a 76-74 win over North Dakota Friday night. But it was far from easy.
Kyle Tresnak made a layup with 19 seconds left to break a 74-74 tie and North Dakota's potential game winning three-pointer was off the mark and the 'Cats held on for the dramatic win. Weber State will now face the top seeded Montana Grizzlies in the championship of the Big Sky Tournament Saturday night with the winner advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm really proud of our guys and how we kept fighting and found a way," said WSU head coach Randy Rahe. "North Dakota played a terrific game and was really prepared. Lots of teams might have given up but we didn't do that. This team is resilient and they love to fight through adversity. It wasn't pretty and it was tough but we were able to find a way. We were able to get just enough stops and had guys step up. We made one more play than they did."
The Wildcats had their hands full against the third seeded North Dakota team that came into the game having won four straight games. The game saw 16 lead changes and the score was tied nine times.
UND held a 74-71 lead with 1:08 to play when Scott Bamforth nailed a key three-pointer to tie the game up. North Dakota turned the ball over, setting up Tresnak's go-ahead layup.
The first half was back and forth and saw 13 lead changes and the score tied eight times. North Dakota shot 58 percent from the field in the first half, compared to 41 percent for Weber State and UND led by as many as six points in the half before taking a 43-40 lead at the break. The Wildcats did not make a field goal in the last five minutes of the half.
North Dakota started the second half on a 9-0 run to take a 52-40 lead with 17:00 to play. They led again by 12 at 56-44 with 15:44 to play when the Wildcats finally got going. The 'Cats went on an 11-0 run over the next five minutes to cut the UND lead to one point at 56-55. WSU freshman Joel Bolomboy had dunks on three-straight possessions during that run.
The Wildcats took their first lead of the second half at 65-64 with 5:53 to play but North Dakota scored four straight to retake the lead. WSU cut the lead to one on a Davion Berry layup before UND scored their last bucket with 1:31 to play.
North Dakota shot 47 percent from the field, compared to 46 percent for the Wildcats, giving Weber State just its second win this season when trailing in shooting percentage. North Dakota shot 38 percent in the second half. WSU was just 4-18 from three-point range but outrebounded UND 39-31. WSU also had eight blocks on the night.
Berry led Weber State with 25 points, which tied his career-high. Berry was 7-19 from the field but was 10-12 from the free throw line and also added six rebounds and two assists. Bamforth finished with 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
"When we were down big early in the second half we knew we had to get together and get some things going and make a push," Bamforth said. "I knew if we stuck together and made a push we would have a chance and we were able to pull it out.
Bolomboy may have been the difference in the second half for the Wildcats. He finished the game with 13 points, with 10 points coming in the second half. He also had a team-high eight rebounds and recorded five blocked shots. He now has 58 blocks on the year, the third most in WSU single-season history.
Frank Otis added nine points and Tresnak had eight for the Wildcats.
Weber State improves to 26-5 on the season, reaching 26 wins for just the fourth time in school history. Weber State advances to the championship game of the Big Sky Tournament for the 15th time in school history and the third time in the last four years. WSU will be looking to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. It will mark the third time in the last four years the Wildcats have met Montana in the conference championship game.