The trip was one part Groundhog's Day, one part William Faulkner.
For the second time in a week, I traveled the 200 miles spanning Spokane, Wash., and Missoula, Mont. The first trip, as noted here on The Mid Majority, was the Big Sky season finale between my beloved alma mater Weber State and its evil rival Montana. The Wildcats led early, but unraveled under the raucous atmosphere at Dahlberg Arena. To summarize my second journey: The Wildcats led early, but unraveled under the raucous atmosphere at Dahlberg Arena. Like clockwork. Bill Murray, you had it easy.
For the third straight season, the Weber State Wildcats were eliminated from the Big Sky Tournament at the hands of the Montana Grizzlies. Two of those losses coming in the Big Sky Championship Game. In each of the three contests, Weber State held a halftime lead. And in each one, Montana dominated the second half. That's putting it lightly. Montana outscored Weber in the second half of these tournament games by 29, 21, and 24 points respectively. Like I said, I had seen this game before.
The oft-repeated Albert Einstein quote on insanity came readily to mind. Einstein said that insanity was "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Despite an understanding that the narrative of a Montana win over Weber State was already in the cards, I drove to Missoula anyway. I saw greatness: Damian Lillard's 29-point, 10-rebound, seven-assist performance silenced any would-be doubters of his elite ability. But, in the end, it is a team sport and Montana eliminated Weber State again. It happened again and it was not a surprise.
Weber State has long been a basketball school. The eight Big Sky Championships have been the pinnacle inside the league for sometime. Well, that time is over. With Montana's victory, the Griz now equal the Wildcats with eight titles. It was an emasculating result for a proud alumnus. Montana has always been the American football school; Weber, the hoops haven. Now, it seems the Wildcats have company. At least in terms of on-the-court success. (See: bids to March Madness)
One of my favorite passages in all of literature comes from William Faulkner. His insight was intended for a Southern audience, who, upon reminiscing about the ill-fated charge of General George Pickett at the Battle of Gettysburg, could remember the time just before the charge, when hope still remained.
Faulkner wrote: "For every Southern boy 14 years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when...[pondering the moments before Pickett's charge] it's all in the balance. This time. [In our daydream, revisionist historian mind] Maybe this time, with all this much to lose and all this much to gain. [We can] capture [the] crown with desperate and unbelievable victory."
Per usual, the first application of Faulkner's prose led me to sports. (Sports do strange things to us, don't they?) Never had anything captured the way I feel about the sporting events that go wrong. Upon re-watching or re-living them, I allow myself to wonder, "what might have been." The re-run, the DVR copy, or the memory in my own mind of my favorite team's loss bring me to the phase just before the storm hit. The instant before it all unraveled. I can watch or recall the good times. Before it all slipped away. And as Faulkner noted, this is available to the romantic dreamer "not once but whenever he wants it."
For example, I can recall back in 1995 when Weber State had a late lead in the second-round matchup with Allen Iverson's Georgetown Hoyas. I can cast my mind's eye back to the moments late in the second half when it looked like the Cinderella from Ogden was about to claim a third date with Madness, this one to the Sweet 16. I can conjure up those feelings of excitement and joy and the idea of blind optimism, because in my mind, the history has already been altered.
Or in 1999 when Weber State, again in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, had the University of Florida on the ropes. No need to remember the missed free throws, turnovers, and eventual dismissal. I had already witnessed that story. "Maybe this time, with all this much to lose and all this much to gain. [We can] capture [the] crown with desperate and unbelievable victory." This time would be different.
From Wednesday's matchup, I will always be drawn to the terrific Weber beginning. With future NBA lottery pick Damian Lillard in complete control, the Wildcats built a double-digit lead, silenced the hostile and vulgar fans in Missoula, and were on their way to quieting the Treasure State demons. To getting the Montana Monkey off of their back. It was there for the taking. It was what I dreamed would happen. And it was indeed happening right before my eyes. And, under the tutelage of Mr. Faulkner, this is where the story ends.
Sports are meant for dreamers.
at MONTANA 85, WEBER STATE 66 03/07/2012
WEBER STATE 24-6 (14-2) -- K. O'Quinn 7-10 4-10 18; D. Lillard 11-23 5-6 29; K. Tresnak 5-9 2-3 12; S. Bamforth 2-6 0-0 6; K. Bullinger 3-7 0-0 7; D. Mahoney 1-2 0-0 2; B. Fulton 4-6 1-1 10; G. Wheelwright 0-1 0-0 0; J. Richardson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-54 8-10 66. MONTANA 25-6 (15-1) -- W. Cherry 4-11 3-4 13; K. Jamar 9-12 0-0 23; M. Ward 10-16 1-1 23; D. Selvig 6-12 2-6 16; A. Steward 3-7 3-4 10; S. Stockton 0-0 0-0 0; K. DeShields 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-58 9-15 85.
Three-point goals: WEB 6-18 (K. Bullinger 1-3; D. Lillard 2-8; B. Fulton 1-2; S. Bamforth 2-4; G. Wheelwright 0-1), UMT 12-22 (D. Selvig 2-4; M. Ward 2-2; W. Cherry 2-7; K. Jamar 5-8; A. Steward 1-1); Rebounds: WEB 26 (D. Lillard 10), UMT 29 (D. Selvig 9); Assists: WEB 13 (D. Lillard 7), UMT 17 (K. Jamar 7); Total Fouls -- WEB 17, UMT 13; Fouled Out: WEB-D. Mahoney; UMT-None.