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'Cats punch ticket

Boyette sends Weber State to the NCAA dance

OGDEN — The Weber State basketball team is going dancing.

And it can thank Jermaine Boyette.

Boyette scored 29 points as the Wildcats beat Eastern Washington 60-57 on Wednesday night to win the Big Sky championship and the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Boyette, the Big Sky's regular season and tournament MVP, scored 22 points in the second half and had one of his best performances in his final game at the Dee Events Center.

"I'm the MVP of this league and I needed to play like it," Boyette said. "I didn't want to put (Weber State's chances of playing in the NCAA tournament) in the committee's hands."

But it took a while for Boyette to get control of Wednesday's game. Weber State's win over Eastern Washington was much like the first meeting between the two teams on Feb. 1. Boyette and Slobodan Ocokoljic both picked up two fouls in the first half. And just like in their first meeting, Eastern Washington didn't take advantage of the Wildcats' missing their "big two" for much of the first half. EW only led by one point at halftime.

"All I wanted was for my team to hold on," Boyette said. "If we were down by one or three (at halftime), I knew we would be OK."

But unlike the first meeting between the two teams, Eastern Washington stayed in the game until the end. The Eagles took their biggest lead of the second half at 48-44, and Ocokoljic picked up his fourth foul soon after. The Wildcats looked doomed.

But like he's done all season long, Boyette wouldn't let his team lose. He led a 9-0 run that gave Weber State a lead it wouldn't lose.

"(Boyette) was probably the difference in the game," Weber State's Brad Barton said. "He's been elevating his play in the second half in every game. It wasn't much of a surprise."

But the game's finish was quite surprising. During a timeout with eight seconds remaining, the Wildcats were up 58-56 and Boyette was headed to the free-throw line. Before he got there, a penny was thrown on the floor at one of the referees. Since the fans had already been warned not to throw anything on the floor, the game officials called a technical foul on Weber State. But some fans in the crowd claimed that the penny came from the Eastern Washington bench.

"I thought it would have been awful bad to lose (because) of something like that," Weber State coach Joe Cravens said. "In my 27 years of doing this I've never seen a technical called for something like that in a conference championship game. It was somewhat bizarre."

Alvin Snow made one of two technical free throws to close Weber State's lead to 59-57. Boyette made his first foul shot and missed the second. Eastern Washington got the rebound, and Danny Pariseau missed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have sent the game to overtime.

Weber State will be making its 14th appearance in the NCAA tournament. The last two appearances have brought huge upsets in the first round and near upsets in the second round. In 1995, the Wildcats beat Michigan State and lost to Georgetown on a last-second shot. Weber State beat North Carolina in 1999 and lost to Florida in overtime in the second round.

"Whoever draws us better watch out because we're coming," Boyette said. "We want to be a Cinderella team."

Weber State won its 17th straight game, while the loss was the third straight for Eastern Washington in the Big Sky championship game.

If Weber State would have lost, the unbeaten conference season and long winning streak wouldn't have been as meaningful, Cravens said.

"I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to win this game to validate the season we had," Cravens said. "In order to finish if off, we had to have this."


E-mail: aaragon@desnews.com