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NCAA Basketball

First Place Up For Grabs in Big Sky as Weber State Visits Montana

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The second-place Weber State Wildcats look to avoid dropping their second loss in a row after rattling off nine straight wins when they take on the Montana Grizzlies tonight in Missoula for first place in the Big Sky Conference.

Montana comes in winners of their last nine contests with an average margin of victory of 9.1 points per game and has won 20 straight conference games since last season. At 9-0 this season, they’ve been buzzing through the conference slate thus far. Weber State was humming right along as well before an upset loss to Montana State on Thursday.

The Wildcats have a deep squad with seven players averaging over 20 minutes per game. Their offense is led by a trio of upperclassmen in juniors Davion Berry (13.9 ppg) and Kyle Tresnak (12.3 ppg) and senior Kyle Bamforth (13.5 ppg). Tresnack anchors the front line of defense for the Wildcats, averaging almost six rebounds and two blocks per game while Berry, Bamforth and Jordan Richardson man the perimeter–they’re accounted for 95 of the 122 made threes on the season for WSU.

Weber State is straight deadly from deep, making 42.5 percent of their threes, good for 3rd in the country. They can also rebound with the best of them–defensively, anyway. They’re averaging almost 28 defensive rebounds a game but only 9.2 per contest on the offensive glass. You’d think a team that’s 22nd in the country in scoring would grab more offensive boards for easy put backs. The Wildcats are and inside-out team despite their gaudy three-point field goal percentage–only 27 percent of their points come from beyond the arc. They get quality production from their bigs, Tresnack and freshman Joel Bolomboy, who averages over eight rebounds and seven points in 22 minutes per game off the bench.

Coach Wayne Tinkle has Montana clicking on all cylinders and has the Griz eying a tenth straight win. Montana, the Big Sky’s 2012 representative in the NCAA Tourney, is led offensively by seniors Will Cherry and Mathias Ward and junior Kareem Jamar. Cherry’s name is all over the record books at Montana and is the all-time leader in steals with 239, 9th in assists (357) and scoring (1304 points). He’d be a little higher in the two latter had he not missed the first seven games of the season with a broken foot. The only thing Cherry doesn’t do particularly well is shoot the three ball, but the rest of the Griz have no problems–they rank 10th nationally in three-point field goal percentage at 40.3 percent.

The big thing to keep an eye on in this game is an undersized Montana team and how they can rebound the ball against a much taller Weber State. Montana needs every player chipping in with the rebounding while the Wildcats rely heavily on Bolomboy and Tresnack, so both need to stay out of foul trouble for Weber State to stay in it.

The key number is 70–whoever gets there first will win this game. A track meet doesn’t necessarily favor the high-scoring Wildcats though–Montana is 8-0 when they score 70 points, but if Weber State can control the boards and make it rain from three, they’ll do something no one has done in the Big Sky in twenty games–beat the Griz. If Montana can win the battle on the boards and hit the offensive glass for some easy second-chance points, they’ll cruise to their 21st straight Big Sky victory.