The Grizzlies have been in hibernation mode for the last 10 days since ending their regular season with an overtime defeat at Eastern Washington — a loss that left them with a No. 2 seed in the conference instead of a title. The regular season championship and tournament hosting duties instead went to Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colo.
After a late season off-week following the Eastern Washington game, Montana (12–4, 20–9) received a first-round bye into the tournament. Head coach Wayne Tinkle said all the time off hasn't given the Grizzlies a chance to get rid of the nasty taste in their collective mouths that came from the season-ending letdown. They've had practices — almost every day during the break — but no game action.
His team is antsy for its next matchup, the coach said.
"I've noticed some chippy-ness here and there," Tinkle said. "But that's good. It means the competitiveness is still there."
On the other hand, there's always a worry that a well-rested team could be a well-rusted team.
"We got to rehab, but the rest of the teams have been playing this whole time," said Jamar, a starter in more than half of Montana's games this season. "We might come out sluggish."
Coach Tinkle said he's done his best to make sure that won't happen, because to have a shot at knocking off the Wildcats (11–5, 18–11), the Grizzlies can't let their opponent beat them out of the gate early. In each of the teams' two previous matchups this season, a 75–56 Montana blowout in Missoula on New Year's Eve and an equally impressive 68–52 win for Weber State in Ogden, Utah, a month later, Tinkle said the more aggressive team came out ahead.
Each team won on its home court, where it's easier to play aggressive in front of a friendly crowd, but this meeting is on neutral soil. And the momentum is up for grabs, Tinkle said.
"We can't complicate our game plan," he said. "The big overwhelming deal is that we need to be a tougher team. We've already seen we each can manhandle the other in our own houses … This one should be different."
Newly crowned the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Brian Qvale will lead the Grizzlies' charge against Weber State. The senior center accounts for 15 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, and is just six blocks from a conference single-season record. The Wildcats have held the 6-foot-11 beast in check on the offensive side of the ball in previous games — for the most part — allowing Qvale to score just 23 combined points in two games.
The Wildcats, coming off a first-round tournament victory over Eastern Washington on Saturday, are still without leader Damian Lillard, who went down with a foot injury in December. In his place, four Weber Staters have filled the scoring gap, each averaging better than 10 points a game. The Wildcats bring a balanced attack to Greeley with guards Lindsey Hughey (12.8 points per game) and Scott Bamforth (12.3), forward Kyle Bullinger (11.5 and 6.3 rebounds per game) and center Trevor Morris (10).
Weber State leads the all-time series 63–47 including the split this season, but Montana got the best of the Wildcats the last time they met in the postseason. In last season's Big Sky tournament championship game, Montana upset the No. 1 Wildcats 66–65 behind former guard Anthony Johnson's 42-point game.
Today's winner will face either No. 1 Northern Colorado or No. 4 Northern Arizona on Wednesday for the conference championship and a berth into the NCAA Tournament.