GREELEY, Colo. – Montana is making a habit out of comebacks at Weber State’s expense.
Will Cherry scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half and Brian Qvale grabbed 17 rebounds, helping the Grizzlies rally in the second half for a 57-40 win over the Wildcats on Tuesday night in the Big Sky Conference tournament semifinals.
The defending tournament champion Grizzlies (21-9) will face top-seeded Northern Colorado in the title game Wednesday night. The Bears held off Northern Arizona 73-70 in the other semifinal contest.
Scott Bamforth led the way for Weber State (18-12) with 10 points.
This was a matchup of last season’s championship game, when Montana stormed back from a 22-point deficit to beat Weber State, 66-65.
Once again, the Grizzlies needed a big rally to move on.
Down by as many as 11 points, second-seeded Montana took the lead for good, 41-40, on two free throws by Cherry with 5:59 remaining.
Using stifling defense, the Grizzlies finished the game off with an 18-0 run, holding Weber State without a point for the final 7:37.
“We just ran out of gas,” Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. “We just hit some walls. We had energy in the first half.
“In the second half, they had energy.”
Kareem Jamar gave the Grizzlies a boost off the bench as he filled in for starter Shawn Stockton, who hobbled off the court late in the first half holding his right hamstring. Stockton didn’t return. Jamar scored all 10 of his points in the second half.
Qvale, Montana’s leading scorer, was held in check early, but still finished with 16 points. He also came up big on the boards as the Grizzlies outrebounded Weber State by a 50-31 margin.
The Wildcats took a while to warm up in the first half, failing to score on their opening nine trips down the floor and falling into an early 7-0 hole. The Wildcats finally hit their first shot more than 7 minutes into the game, when Lindsey Hughey knocked in a 3-pointer.
From there, the Wildcats began take control. Propelled by a 15-2 run, they led 22-12 at halftime.
Using a matchup zone, Weber State frustrated and confused Montana. The Grizzlies shot just 13 percent in the opening half and scored only three points — all on free throws by Qvale — over the final 7:21.
“That had to be very bad TV in the first half,” Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said. “We got off to a good start and what has been our Achilles’ heel is we get stagnant offensively. I was proud we defended because otherwise that thing would have been over.”
In the second half, the Grizzlies found their touch, hitting 62 percent from the field.
Even more, they held the Wildcats to 5 of 29 shooting over the final 20 minutes.
“We couldn’t make shots,” Hughey said. “We had things going and then we couldn’t make a shot.”
Weber State has been without one of its top players most of the season after Damian Lillard broke his right foot at Tulsa on Dec. 16. Lillard was the league’s MVP last season, averaging nearly 20 points a game.
Despite the loss, the Wildcats’ season isn’t concluded just yet. The team added a nonconference game to their schedule and will play at Saint Mary’s (Calif.) on Friday.
The Gaels (24-8) have one more chance to impress the NCAA selection committee as they hope for an at-large berth into the tournament. Saint Mary’s lost 75-63 loss to Gonzaga in the finals of the West Coast Conference tournament Monday.
Montana will be going for its eighth tournament crown Wednesday.
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