Weber State clinches Big Sky, NCAA berth
OGDEN, Utah (AP) Heartbreak has followed Weber State in March the past few seasons.
The Wildcats reached the Big Sky tournament championship game three times in the past four seasons, falling short each time. Two of those title game losses came with NBA All-Star Damian Lillard at the helm.
With Lillard in the house, Weber State finally snapped its championship game hex in dominant fashion.
Kyle Tresnak scored 27 points and Davion Berry added 19 to help the Wildcats beat North Dakota 88-67 Saturday night for the Big Sky tournament championship and an automatic NCAA berth.
Joel Bolomboy added 11 rebounds for Weber State (19-11, 14-6 Big Sky), which earned its first NCAA tournament spot since 2007.
''I've been waiting four years for this,'' Tresnak said.
Troy Huff had 17 points and Alonzo Traylor added 15 to lead North Dakota (17-16, 12-8 Big Sky) which trailed from start to finish. UND has lost all six meetings in its series with Weber State.
North Dakota shot just 39.3 percent from the field and trailed by double digits almost the entire second half. The Wildcats had no trouble finding their shot. Weber State shot 56.6 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from the perimeter.
''Against these guys, you got to pick your poison,'' North Dakota coach Brian Jones said. ''They're good inside. They're good outside.''
Weber State opened the game by hitting 10 of its first 11 shots from the field. It forced North Dakota to play from behind the entire first half.
Strong outside shooting made the difference. The Wildcats shot 53.8 percent from the perimeter in the first half.
Weber State scored on each of its first seven possessions to take an 18-6 lead over North Dakota. Berry had a big hand in the hot start. He drove for a layup, made a 3-pointer and hit a pair of free throws to help push Weber State's lead to double digits.
''Our guys came out with great confidence,'' Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. ''We got great looks to start off with and then it's kind of a roller coaster. When the first couple of guys make shots, everybody else just feels like, `Hey, it's our night. We're going to make shots all night.'''
UND struggled to hang close to the Wildcats. North Dakota made four baskets in its next five possessions - culminating in a jumper from Traylor - to cut the lead to 21-14. But Tresnak responded with three straight baskets in the paint to stop the run and boost the Wildcats to a 27-16 lead with 10:49 left before halftime.
Weber State built its largest first-half lead when Berry hit a pair of free throws to put the Wildcats ahead 36-23 with 5:03 remaining. UND cut the deficit to seven points three times in the final five minutes, but Berry made a 3-pointer as time expired to give the Wildcats a 44-34 halftime lead.
''I got the ball and then I basically had to just cool off for a bit because there were 9 seconds left,'' Berry said. ''I just wanted to take my time and get a good look. I came down, I took a rhythm dribble and I just let it go.''
Slowing down Weber State did not get any easier for North Dakota in the second half. UND cut its deficit to nine at one point when Quinton Hooker hit a pair of free throws to make it 54-45.
Starting with a layup from Berry, the Wildcats had three straight baskets to seize momentum again. They went up 65-49 on a putback from Bolomboy with 11:34 remaining.
Weber State pushed its lead to 20 points when Tresnak drove in for a layup to make it 75-55 with 7:18 left.
''They executed their game plan better than we could on the defensive end,'' UND guard Aaron Anderson said.