Montana tops Weber State to win Big Sky, NCAA bid
By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) It's been 20 years since Montana was this good.
Kareem Jamar and Mathias Ward each scored 23 points and the Grizzlies' erupted for 54 points in the second half to swamp Weber State 85-66 on Wednesday night and win the Big Sky Conference tournament and the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Montana (25-6) set a team record with 14 straight wins and closed with its best record since the 1992 season. The Grizzlies' last loss was Jan. 14 at Weber State.
The Wildcats led 36-31 after a first half in which they shot 58 percent. But they were blown out in the second half as Montana outscored them 54-30 on 59 percent shooting, including 8 of 12 on 3-pointers.
"What a second half, that's all I can say," Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said. "Weber came out and hit us in the mouth. I think our guys did a good job of not panicking."
Damian Lillard, the nation's second-leading scorer, scored 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Weber State (24-6), which lost in the season finale at Montana to give the Grizzlies the regular-season title.
Montana will make its second NCAA tournament appearance in three years and ninth overall. Jubilant fans stormed the floor after the game.
"We have achieved our No. 1 goal now and that was winning the tournament championship to go to the NCAAs," Tinkle said. "We are not out of our goals yet."
Montana has made 15 title game appearances and won eight times.
Jamar, a sophomore guard selected Most Valuable Player of the tournament, went 9 of 12 from the floor, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range, and added seven assists. Derek Selvig scored 16 points and Will Cherry added 13 for the Grizzlies. Art Steward scored 10.
Jamar scored 16 points and had four 3-pointers in the second half.
"They were going in, thank God," Jamar said. "I was happy that we shared the ball."
Weber State coach Randy Rahe was impressed.
"We tried to guard him and he kept moving out," Rahe said of Jamar. "They have a lot of weapons, five guys in double figures. It's hard to guard."
Kyle Tresnak scored 12 points for Weber State, which shot just 40 percent in the second half.
Rahe couldn't blame his defense for the loss.
"Sometimes a team makes shots," he said. "We got beat by a hot team tonight, on their court.
"We are not ashamed. We fought hard and came up short."
After Montana trailed by five at halftime, Ward scored the first five points of the second half to tie it at 36.
"We wanted to get the momentum," Ward said.
The teams traded the lead until Ward's jumper sparked a 10-0 run that gave the Grizzlies a 52-43 advantage with 9:38 left. Jamar scored seven of those points, and Weber was held scoreless for nearly 5 minutes as the Wildcats made just 6 of 17 shots to open the second half.
Weber State started making baskets, but Jamar replied with three 3-pointers to give the Grizzlies a 64-54 lead. Montana extended that to 70-56 with 4:30 left and the Wildcats could not reply.
Lillard said he was eager for another crack at Montana after the Grizzlies beat the Wildcats in the regular-season finale.
"I wanted to get to the NCAA tournament," Lillard said. "It hurts a lot that we fell short again after all the success we had."
In the first half, Weber State jumped to an 18-8 lead by making 7 of its first 10 shots, including all four 3-pointers. Selvig's 3 capped a 10-0 Montana run that tied the score at 25.
Lillard converted a three-point play to launch an 11-2 run that gave Weber a 36-27 lead.
Weber State led 36-31 at halftime, after shooting 58 percent while Montana shot 50 percent. Lillard and Selvig each scored 13 points in the first half.
Lillard averages 24 points per game and is the Big Sky's player of the year.
Weber State leads the nation in free throw shooting at 81 percent, but got only 10 attempts Wednesday, making eight.
Updated March 8, 2012