OGDEN — King Kong is no longer taking up residence on Joe Cravens' back. That doesn't mean, however, that the Weber State basketball coach is feeling much better about that state of the Wildcats.
Though WSU beat Idaho State Saturday to get its first Big Sky Conference win after opening the season with six losses, the 'Cats are in no position to celebrate. In fact, Weber State knows a few more wins are of utmost importance if they are to qualify for the Big Sky tournament.
The Big Sky, with eight member schools, invites only the top six teams to the tournament and as things stand halfway through the schedule, Weber State is — depending on how you choose to look at it — tied for sixth or tied for last.
The next seven games, beginning tonight with Montana in the Dee Events Center, will determine whether the Wildcats miss the conference tournament for the first time since 1981.
"We know this doesn't mean a whole lot," Cravens said after beating ISU. "We know we haven't accomplished anything more than winning one ballgame. If we want to compete in this conference, we need to do a lot more than just beat Idaho State."
The Wildcats, tired to struggling to score points, juggled their lineup in the last game, sitting power forward David Patten and giving burly post player Clint Burris a starting position. Patten has been mired in a miserable shooting stretch and has found himself in Cravens' doghouse.
Burris, on the other hand, made the most of his starting assignment and scored 14 points while center Nadim Pajevic added 17. Patten will again start the game on the bench but this time will be joined by point guard Nick Covington. After making a few bad decisions against ISU, Covington got a seat next to Cravens and didn't get back into the game after playing the first four minutes.
Senior Brett Cox will start instead.
"We're going to give the guys that act like they want to be out there a chance to show us what they can do," Cravens said. Against ISU "they gave us a spark and showed some energy."
Montana (16-3 overall, 6-1 Big Sky) enters the game in second place in the Big Sky standings and is one of the surprise teams among mid-major conferences. Former Jazzman Larry Krystkowiak is in his second year coaching the Grizzlies and guided the team to the NCAA tournament in his rookie season as a coach.
The senior-laden Grizz are paced by senior shooting guard Kevin Criswell. The Montana native is scoring 15.9 points per game and grabbing almost five rebounds. Sophomore center Andrew Straight is arguably the best big man in the conference with 17.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per outing. He's making nearly 65 percent of his shots and will be a challenge for Pajevic, Burris and Patten in the paint.
"They play really well together as a team and share the ball," Cravens said. "As a result, they get a lot of good looks at the basket. They are tough to defend because if you take away the inside, they can kill you from the outside and vice versa."
The Wildcats will conclude a three-game homestand Saturday night against the 12-9, 5-2 Montana State Bobcats.