MISSOULA, Mont. – The Northern Arizona men's basketball team opens play in the 2013 Big Sky Tournament Thursday afternoon against No. 2 seed Weber State at 2 p.m. Arizona time. The Lumberjacks and Wildcats play the first of three quarterfinals games at Dahlberg Arena on the first day of action.
"We are excited to be in the tournament," said Head Coach Jack Murphy. "We kinda backed our way in and it was not the way we wanted to get in the tournament. But, we did a couple things in the regular season that deserved a spot."
NAU is making its 21st Big Sky Championship Tournament appearance and first under Head Coach Jack Murphy. It is the first appearance in the postseason for the program after a one-year absence.
"Our goal for the whole season was making the conference tournament and we did that," said Stallon Saldivar, who will play in his 118th career game against Weber State in the quarterfinals, the third-best total in school history. "It is one game at a time. Anything can happen, including something magical. It happens every year. Hopefully it is our turn."
Weber State swept the Lumberjacks in two meetings this season. The Wildcats escaped two weeks ago in Flagstaff with an overtime win after erasing a seven-point deficit in the final 1:07 of the game.
"We are playing a team that we played tough twice," said Murphy. "We just have not been able to finish the game against them. We have to go up there with the same mindset and try to put some finishing touches on it at the end."
Weber State is 24-5 and finished 18-2 in league play. NAU is 1-4 all-time against Weber State in the conference tournament but won the last meeting in 2008 in Portland.
Murphy says the March Madness experience is a special opportunity for his program.
"It is everything you work for," said Murphy about playing in March. "You work 11 months of the year for this month and the opportunity to control your own destiny. We are playing meaningful games in March and that is all you can ask for. It is up to us how many we play. We can play one and be back home or we can keep this thing going."
Gabe Rogers averaged 18.0 points in two games against Weber State this season, while junior Max Jacobsen scored 17.5 points (16-of-22 from the field) and DeWayne Russell averaged 16.0 ppg. against the Wildcats.
"We have played them well," said Murphy. "I am not sure that is a benefit or if it hurts us because they are not going to over-look us. Coach Rahe and his staff do a good job and I think they have good respect for what we are doing. Their players know we can compete with them. They are not going to take us lightly. We are going to have to come out and earn everything we get."
Murphy will again look to his senior leaders to set the tone for the game. Three players have previous postseason experience as seniors Stallon Saldivar, Gabe Rogers and Mike Dunn each played in Big Sky Tournament games in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
"There is no doubt about it that playing games in March, where everything is on the line, is different than a regular season game in January and February," aid Murphy. "We are going to look to those guys to set the example right from the jump so the young guys playing in their first games in March know that every second and every possession matters."
Gabe Rogers, who was selected to the All-Big Sky first team on Monday, said the Lumberjacks will give everything they have.
"We have nothing to lose," aid Rogers. "Those guys are expected to win. We know we can play with anybody in this conference. Our past games have all been close. Hopefully we learned from all of those games. We are going to have to play a perfect game to beat a great and well-coached Weber State team."
The game can be heard on the Lumberjack Radio Network on 105.1 FM The Big Talker, on the Big Talker website and via their mobile app. Fans can also catch all the action for free on Big Sky TV.