by Zachary Knecht
Featured Image: Photo by Weber State Athletics
Weber State Montana State Tournament Preview
The #3 Weber State Wildcats face their toughest challenge of the season Tuesday night, playing the #2 Montana State Bobcats in the conference semifinals. Coming into the Big Sky Tournament, there were a few potential eye-catching matchups, and this duel against the two and three seeds was definitely one of them.
The Wildcats can’t seem to get rid of the Bobcats no matter what sport they are playing. WSU couldn’t beat Montana State in their football playoffs, but now the Ogden is proud to get a shot at redemption to knock out their rivals in basketball.
Weber State split the season series against the Bobcats, the home team taking each of their matchups. With the advantage having gone to the hosting team in the regular season, the neutral site is sure to keep things balanced for either team.
The January 14 battle went to the Bobcats 67-52 at the Worthington Arena. Montana State ran away early in the first half and never looked back. Jubrile Belo led the Bobcats to the victory to the tune of a 17-point, 12-rebound double-double. Steven Verplancken Jr. and Dillon Jones were the only major producers for Weber State, combining for 29 points, while the rest of the roster was a non-factor in the offense. WSU didn’t play a poor game by any means but was stunted by the pressure from Montana State. The Wildcats turned the ball over 16 times and were outrebounded 31-28 on the road.
WSU got their revenge in early February, taking down the Bobcats 73-63. By the end of the first half, it looked like the Wildcats would be swept by their conference foes after falling down 39-34, but they came back in a big way. Weber State outscored Montana State 39-24 in the second half, lighting up the conference’s top defense. Jones and Verplancken Jr. again took the reigns of the Wildcats’ offense, combining for 35 points on 55.6% shooting. Great Osobor led the Bobcats in points from the bench with 15, and RaeQuan battle followed closely behind with 14. It was like night and day between their first matchup against Montana State, with their shooting numbers improving (56.5% FG, 41.2% 3PT), outrebounding their opponent (26-24), and limiting turnovers (12).
Who to Watch
The Jones and Verplancken Jr. duo needs to continue to lead Weber State to success. They were the main contributors in the last two matchups against Montana State, and their performance is key in a win-or-go-home game. While Verplancken Jr. had an efficient showing last night against Sacramento State, Jones struggled to be efficient, and he won’t get away with it against the second-ranked Bobcats. His main concern was his one-of-seven three-point shooting Monday, so he needs to clean up his game and make the most of his opportunities against the fearsome foe.
The Bobcats will rely on their duo in Battle and Belo. Battle has not produced as well against Weber State as he has the rest of the season. Montana State’s star guard averages 13 points against the Wildcats but looks to break out in the decisive contest. Belo got the better of WSU the first time around but didn’t make a huge impact at the Dee Events Center. He is a vital part of Montana State’s operation, and a solid performance could bring his team to the championship game.
Blow for Blow
There aren’t many teams that have looked better than Weber State in conference play. Montana State is one of them, and the other was eliminated from the tournament already, so this is the true test for the Wildcats, with the fourth or ninth seed awaiting the winner in the championship. For WSU to overcome the odds, they need to keep up with the Bobcats’ fourth-ranked offense. When the Wildcats get going, they can keep up with anyone, but the task becomes more difficult against the Big Sky’s top defense. Weber State has shown time and time again that when they bounce back, it is in a big way, and they aim to do just that after a poor shooting performance was three Monday night.
Each team comes into Tuesday streaking, but the Wildcats’ three-game winning streak doesn’t hold a light to Montana State’s six-in-a-row. The last time the Bobcats lost was to the Wildcats in their February matchup, so Weber State hopes to replicate the result.
The Wildcats take on the Bobcats at 9 pm MST in Boise with a trip to the Big Sky Championship Game on the line.
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