Tournament play is always foreboding. With so much on the line, it is no wonder that the emotion level is raised to the brink of insanity. The conference tournament is a special form of psychological warfare. There are no surprises between the contenders. In the Big Sky, each of the semifinalists had seen each other twice before. The third time, it's all about grit, determination, and the quest for March Madness.
Up until one week ago, Weber State was in control of its destiny. Win on the final day of the regular season, and the Wildcats would host the Big Sky Tournament. Montana had another plan, Weber State found itself a more difficult road to March, and Portland State stood in its way. The Wildcats had defeated the Vikings in their two previous matchups. The third would be as hard-fought as any.
Playing with reckless abandon, the Vikings looked the favored Wildcats equal for the vast majority of the contest. Behind the play of Charles Odom and Chehales Tapscott, the dynamic duo from Portland, the Vikings tore up the Wildcats in the first half, scoring 27 points and giving the third seed a five-point halftime lead. For much of the second half, it seemed like it was simply Portland State's night.
Then, as all great players do, Weber State's Damian Lillard took the game upon his shoulders. The two-time Big Sky MVP led a fierce second-half comeback, a stretch of 20 minutes that saw the Wildcats outscore the Vikings by 11 points, clinching a spot in the Big Sky Tournament final tomorrow. While Lillard may get the headline, underclassmen Gelaun Wheelwright and Jordan Richardson were the difference-makers. Freshman Wheelwright played 30 minutes, hit 6-of-10 from the field, and provided Weber with two terrific driving layups late in the second half to propel the comeback.
As for Richardson, the usual cog in the Weber rotation didn't see any playing time in the first 30 minutes of action. Then, when he entered, he proved ready to change the complexion of the game. Richardson hit a three-pointer, made two defensive stops, and a hustle play to save a possession.
Then, in crunch time, Weber State made the shots necessary to survive and advance. When it comes to Tournament time, that's the only victory that matters.
WEBER STATE 69, PORTLAND STATE 63 03/06/2012
PORTLAND STATE 17-14 (10-6) -- R. Broekhoff 5-9 2-2 13; C. Tapscott 6-12 5-6 19; M. Harthun 1-3 0-0 3; C. Odum 10-19 2-3 24; R. Parker 3-9 0-0 6; L. McMullan 3-6 0-0 8; G. Winston 1-3 0-0 3; N. Lozeau 0-0 0-0 0; M. Whitmore 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-52 7-9 63. WEBER STATE 24-5 (14-2) -- D. Lillard 6-14 9-10 22; K. Tresnak 5-6 0-0 10; G. Wheelwright 6-10 1-2 15; D. Mahoney 1-3 0-0 2; S. Bamforth 3-7 1-2 9; B. Fulton 2-4 0-0 6; K. Bullinger 0-2 0-0 0; J. Richardson 1-1 2-2 5. Totals 24-47 13-16 69.
Three-point goals: POST 8-14 (M. Harthun 1-3; L. McMullan 2-2; C. Odum 2-4; C. Tapscott 2-4; G. Winston 1-1), WEB 8-18 (D. Lillard 1-4; B. Fulton 2-3; S. Bamforth 2-5; J. Richardson 1-1; G. Wheelwright 2-5); Rebounds: POST 26 (C. Tapscott 11), WEB 20 (D. Mahoney 6); Assists: POST 11 (L. McMullan 3), WEB 10 (D. Lillard 4); Total Fouls -- POST 16, WEB 13; Fouled Out: POST-None; WEB-None.