Regular Season Ends in Bizarre Fashion, Wildcats Head to Boise
(Photo courtesy of Weber State Athletics)
By Joe Traub
Onward and upward.
Given all the odd circumstances in the world over the last year, one must be able to adjust on the fly and put disappointments in the rearview mirror in the hopes of achieving a long-term goal.
That will have to be the mindset of the Weber State University men’s basketball team as they arrive in Boise, Idaho, for the start of the Big Sky Conference tournament following a tumultuous weekend.
The Wildcats entered last Thursday’s series opener with Northern Colorado having a chance to claim the regular season conference title, but they likely needed two wins over the Bears plus some help in order to make it a reality. Little did Weber State know, they would only play one game.
Despite struggling offensively, the ‘Cats fought and clawed for a 60-59 victory on Thursday at the Dee Events Center. Isiah Brown and Dillon Jones each put up 18 points, but it will be the final sequence that is remembered most from the game. With Weber State trailing by two and looking for a hero, Brown drove to the hoop and was fouled with under ten seconds left.
He converted on both free throws to tie it at 59, then Matt Johnson missed a jumper at the other end. Michal Kozak secured the rebound to send it to overtime, right? Well, remember, we live in bizarro world where anything is possible. Northern Colorado junior guard Daylen Kountz appeared to think his team was already trailing, so he fouled Kozak with 0.7 seconds remaining.
With Weber State given a chance to miraculously win in regulation due to Kountz’s mental mistake, the veteran Kozak calmly sunk his first free throw then intentionally missed the second in order to let more time run off the clock. A desperation heave from the Bears fell short, and the Wildcats somehow emerged victorious.
Southern Utah did beat Portland State later that evening to maintain their edge in first place, then Eastern Washington also stayed alive for the regular-season title with a Friday afternoon victory over Idaho State in the finale for both teams.
What promised to be a potentially thrilling last day of the regular season quickly came to an abrupt, somber end for Weber State. As they prepared to take on the Bears, it was announced roughly a half-hour before the scheduled tip that the game was canceled due to COVID-19 precautions.
This officially ended the Wildcats chances at earning the number one seed. The T-Birds routed Portland State on Saturday to earn that distinction, while Eastern Washington earned a tiebreaker over Weber State, meaning the Eagles will be seeded second and the ‘Cats third when play begins in Idaho’s capital city.
Even though no basketball was played at The Dee on Saturday, it was still Senior Day and the athletic department did an admirable job of making sure the appropriate players could be honored.
After word of the cancellation came down, seniors Brown, Cody Carlson, Kham Davis and longest-tenured Wildcat, Kozak, were all handed a plaque that included a jersey and photo. All posed at center court for photos, as WSU made it as normal of a Senior Day celebration as possible.
Despite not being able to finish the regular season on the court, this has been the best campaign for Weber State basketball in three years.
Although they did not know it at the time, Thursday’s win capped an undefeated home season for the Wildcats. They went 11-0 in the Dee in 2020-21, only the fourth time they have gone undefeated at home since the facility opened its doors 44 years ago. The last time such a mark was achieved was in 2011-12, when the ‘Cats finished 16-0 on their home court in Damian Lillard’s final season.
The Wildcats enter the conference tournament with an overall record of 17-5, the first time they have climbed as high as 12 games over the .500 mark since Feb. 17, 2018. WSU defeated Sacramento State 83-73 that night as Randy Rahe became the Big Sky’s all-time leader in coaching wins.
Weber State’s .800 winning percentage (12-3) in conference play is their best since 2015-16, when they finished 15-3 and earned the top seed en route to winning the Big Sky tournament, the last time the ‘Cats made it to the Big Dance. Good omen? Time will tell.
In the third year of the conference tournament being held in Boise, the Wildcats hope the third time's the charm. They defeated Portland State in the quarterfinals before a blowout loss to Montana in the semis in 2019, before an early-morning first round setback to Sacramento State last year, hours before life as everyone knew it started to dramatically change.
The ‘Cats earned a first-round bye due to their resurgent regular season and have the luxury of not having to play on Wednesday. That is the day sixth seeded Montana will battle last-place Idaho (who finished with just one win in the regular season) for the right to advance and face Weber State. The Wildcats make their tournament debut Thursday night at 8 p.m. against the winner. They split a pair of games in Missoula in mid-February after having previously dispatched the Vandals in a two-game sweep.
Accolades rolled in for Weber State on Monday as they prepared for the tournament. Brown was named Big Sky Newcomer of the Year in addition to being included as part of the all-conference first team. The transfer from Grand Canyon University led the Wildcats with an average of 18 points per game while ranking fourth in field goal percentage at 50%.
Winning Big Sky Freshman of the Year while almost exclusively coming off the bench? No problem for Jones, who received the award on Monday. He appeared in 21 games (just two starts) in the regular season and averaged 8 points and 5.8 rebounds a contest. Jones has also come up big in a possibly underrated column on the stat sheet with 1.5 steals per game, which is good for second in the Big Sky.
Seikou Sisoho Jawara also received conference honors as he was named to the all-Big Sky second team. He arrived at Weber State in the summer after transferring from Loyola Marymount and has delivered the goods for the Wildcats. “SSJ” ranked third in the circuit with an average of 18 points per game in conference play and helps out wherever he can on the court, dishing out 3.2 assists a contest.