Photo by Mackenzie Kasper, Big Sky Conference
MISSOULA, Mont. – Weber State built an early lead and never trailed to advance over Northern Arizona 84-58 in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament Thursday afternoon.
Weber State improved to 25-5, while the Lumberjacks finished the season at 11-21.
The Wildcats opened the game with 9-0 start, built the lead to 16 points in the first half and never trailed in the game. It was a start the Lumberjacks would never overcome.
"I thought Weber State came out and they obviously had a great game plan," said Head Coach Jack Murphy. "We had played them close less than two weeks ago at home. They started off the game with a defensive intensity that they had not shown in two games against us throughout the season."
NAU missed its first four shots and had three turnovers before getting on the board with a Max Jacobsen layup at the 15:39 mark as WSU led 11-2.
"You can't go five minutes without scoring especially against a team like Weber State," said Murphy. "We just did not have that pop offensively in the first half that we needed to have to hang with them."
NAU cut the lead to six at 16-10 before a 13-4 run pushed the lead to 15 points with 4:42 left. The Wildcats would take a 15-point lead at the half behind a 50 percent effort from the field. NAU shot just 34 percent over the opening 20 minutes of the game.
"We did a good job of controlling the paint at times in the first half," said Murphy, who noted it was 12-to-12 at the half in paint points. "But they had too many second chance points and points off turnovers that we could not overcome."
The Wildcats extended the lead in the second half and survived a few runs by the Lumberjacks with a strong shooting night (53.6 percent) and balanced scoring attack with four players in double figures. Frank Otis led the Wildcats with 16 points, while Davion Berry had 13. Kyle Tresnak and Scott Bamforth both scored 12 points.
"In the second half we had the energy and were playing well at times but when you dig yourselves in a hole by 16 points against a team like Weber State, it is going to be difficult to overcome," said Murphy. "We had to do a little more gambling and full-court pressure than we would have liked and got out of rhythm offensively."
"I have to credit my five seniors," said Murphy. "They were absolutely amazing during the season."
Freshman guard DeWayne Russell led the Lumberjacks in scoring with 21 points, while Gabe Rogers added 12 points on a 5-of-16 night from the field. Rogers hit two three-pointers in the game to surpass former Weber State standout and current NBA player Damian Lillard for fifth all-time on the Big Sky charts.
"They were playing Weber State defense," said Rogers. "That is a great team and they are very well-coached. Scott Bamforth is a great defender. They just said Gabe was not going to beat us and that is what they did. We struggled."
Rogers' 12 points gave him 573 on the season, the second best single-season total in school history, while he finished the season with 17 straight games in double figures. He completes his four-year career with 1,422 points, the fifth-best total in the Lumberjack record books.
"The media and the coaches picked us last," said Rogers of the Big Sky preseason polls. "We are walking out of here proud. We turned a lot of heads and Coach Murphy came into a difficult place and he really changed the culture around. I really think the sky is the limit for this program and this team."
Saldivar finished his career with 505 assists, the sixth-best total in Big Sky Conference history, while playing in 118 games. Only two players have played more games for the Lumberjacks in school history.
"When you have five seniors, they are going to fight for their final college game," said Rogers. "We kept fighting and we have a coach that is always fighting (with us).