For all of the parity in the Big Sky this year, all of the top seeds will advance to the semifinals. However, it certainly wasn't easy!
Northern Arizona's win over Northern Colorado didn't generate any style points, but they controlled the game defensively to get the 63-57 victory and advance to the Big Sky semifinals.
UNC had just 0.97 PPP, as they shot 15/39 inside the arc and 5/22 beyond it. Good looks were nowhere to be had, even as they grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. Tim Huskisson had 15 and 10 in his final career game, but Tevin Svihovec was held to 13 points on 4/17 shooting, and the Bears didn't have enough scorers to pick up the slack.
The game was tight the whole way, but it always felt like NAU had things under control. It was a power game, as they had 14 offensive rebounds themselves, consistently looking to get the ball inside. Jordyn Martin had 4 offensive rebounds, but the real star down low was Len Springs, who finished with 8 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks. He was a force down low on both ends.
But the star of the second half for NAU, I thought, was Aaseem Dixon, who always seemed to hit a big bucket when the Jacks needed one. He finished the game with 16 points, including hitting four threes.
In the first two games of the day, it was the stars that took over and powered their teams. In this game, it was a full team effort as NAU does what they couldn't do last year - beat Northern Colorado in the opening round of the Big Sky tournament.
In the nightcap, we got a classic battle between Montana and Weber State, though the refs seemed to do everything they could to slow the flow of the game. 47 fouls were called in this game, many of the ticky tack variety. The topper was in OT, where Ryan Richardson may have slightly bumped Mike Weisner 25 feet from the basket, and was called for his fifth foul. Both coaches got warnings from the refs by the end of the first half, and things were inconsistent throughout. The silver lining is that both teams had plenty of reason to be miffed many times over, so it's not like one team was consistently favored. And that is the last I will say about the reffing.
First, let's talk about Weber State, who played their best game of the year, putting all they had into this one but coming up just short. Jeremy Senglin missed a month with a broken jaw, and played a wonderful game, finishing with 25 points, many of them in big spots. Joel Bolomboy had 18 and 10, and battled Martin Brenig all game.
The Wildcats played great defense in the second half, making the Grizzlies work for everything. It would have been enough too, if it weren't for a tough loose ball foul on Bolomboy which sent Jordan Gregory to the foul line with 3.2 seconds left (re: that call... it was an unfortunate call on Weber, but I'm not sure it could have been called any other way).
For Montana, they survive and advance, which is the name of the game. They battled foul trouble for much of the second half, with Mario Dunn fouling out, and Breunig playing much of the end of the game with four fouls.
Still, Breunig was excellent in this game, finishing with 24 points and 12 rebounds. despite getting a ton of Weber attention. His offensive game is so diverse and impressive. He is a star.
Gregory struggled to get many good looks, but it is a testament to him that when he was fouled, down 2, with 3.2 seconds left, there was no doubt as to whether he was going to hit the shots. He did.
Weber State got Montana out of their game - the Grizzlies were 3/17 from downtown, and struggled to get contributions from many of their role players (Brandon Gfeller had 2 points on 0/5 FG), but they come away with the win. That sets up an NAU/Montana game which should be fascinating. They are the two best defensive teams in the Big Sky, and will look to attach each other in different ways. Hopefully it is a worthy follow up to this classic.
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