Montana tops Weber State to win Big Sky, NCAA bid
Damian Lillard scored eight points in the first seven minutes as Weber State jumped to an 18-8 lead over Montana in the Big Sky Conference tournament championship game Wednesday.
That was the chief highlight for the Wildcats, who were outscored 54-30 in the second half to lose 85-66, giving Montana the league's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
Lillard, the nation's second-leading scorer, said he had been itching for another crack at the Grizzlies since they beat Weber State in the regular-season finale to claim the league title and home-court advantage in the tournament.
''I had this game marked on my calendar,'' Lillard said. ''I wanted to get them back.''
Lillard, a junior, finished with 29 points to lead all scorers, and added 10 rebounds and seven assists. Weber State (24-6) also lost to Montana in the title game in 2010.
''It hurts a lot that we fell short again after all the success we had,'' Lillard said.
Kareem Jamar and Mathias Ward each scored 23 points for Montana (25-6), which set a team record with 14 straight wins and closed with its best record since the 1992 season. The Grizzlies' last loss was Jan. 14 at Weber State.
The Wildcats led 36-31 after a first half in which they shot 58 percent. But they were blown out in the second half as Montana outscored them 54-30 on 59 percent shooting, including 8 of 12 on 3-pointers.
''What a second half, that's all I can say,'' Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said. ''Weber came out and hit us in the mouth. I think our guys did a good job of not panicking.''
Montana will make its second NCAA tournament appearance in three years and ninth overall. Jubilant fans stormed the floor after the game.
''We have achieved our No. 1 goal now and that was winning the tournament championship to go to the NCAAs,'' Tinkle said. ''We are not out of our goals yet.''
Montana has made 15 title game appearances and won eight times.
Jamar, a sophomore guard selected Most Valuable Player of the tournament, went 9 of 12 from the floor, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range, and added seven assists. Derek Selvig scored 16 points and Will Cherry added 13 for the Grizzlies. Art Steward scored 10.
Jamar scored 16 points and had four 3-pointers in the second half.
''They were going in, thank God,'' Jamar said. ''I was happy that we shared the ball.''
Weber State coach Randy Rahe was impressed.
''We tried to guard him and he kept moving out,'' Rahe said of Jamar. ''They have a lot of weapons, five guys in double figures. It's hard to guard.''
Kyle Tresnak scored 12 points for Weber State, which shot just 40 percent in the second half.
Rahe couldn't blame his defense for the loss.
''Sometimes a team makes shots,'' he said. ''We got beat by a hot team tonight, on their court.
''We are not ashamed. We fought hard and came up short.''
After Montana trailed by five at halftime, Ward scored the first five points of the second half to tie it at 36.
''We wanted to get the momentum,'' Ward said.
The teams traded the lead until Ward's jumper sparked a 10-0 run that gave the Grizzlies a 52-43 advantage with 9:38 left. Jamar scored seven of those points, and Weber was held scoreless for nearly 5 minutes as the Wildcats made just 6 of 17 shots to open the second half.
Weber State started making baskets, but Jamar replied with three 3-pointers to give the Grizzlies a 64-54 lead. Montana extended that to 70-56 with 4:30 left and the Wildcats could not reply.
Lillard averages 24 points per game and is the Big Sky's player of the year.
Weber State leads the nation in free throw shooting at 81 percent, but got only 10 attempts Wednesday, making eight.