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Weber State basketball: Wildcats glad to finally put end to Grizzly curse

OGDEN — The Wildcats are dancing this year because they finally found a way to avoid another Grizzly death.

Five times in a six-year span from 2010 through 2015, the Weber State men's basketball team saw its Big Sky Conference tournament championship dreams shattered by the University of Montana.

In three of those years — 2010, 2012 and 2013 — the Grizzlies knocked off the Wildcats in the tournament title game, including a devastating defeat in 2010 when WSU held a seemingly-safe 20-point halftime lead at home, and a heartbreaking 67-64 defeat in 2013 at Missoula, Montana.

Weber State also lost to the Grizzlies in last year's Big Sky tourney quarterfinals, and in a 2011 semifinal matchup.

So last Saturday's 62-59 triumph in the Big Sky championship game came as a great feeling of relief and redemption for the Wildcats, who finally put an end to the Grizzly curse that had haunted them for years and, with the curse-breaking victory, advanced to the NCAA tournament on Friday night against Xavier.

"It was really sweet," WSU coach Randy Rahe said of finally getting over the postseason hump against the Grizzlies. "I've gotta be honest, they've been a thorn in our side and we've had some tough games with 'em in tournament play, and we were due, we were due.

"It's nothing against Montana's program; we've got great respect for 'em, but when they've knocked us out of the tournament a few times, you get a little irritated, you get a little tired of it. And it's kind of time to put our foot down.

"But this time, our kids found a way, and all of the past games in the tournament with these guys have been that way," he said. "The games that we've lost to 'em, we could have just as easily won — maybe all of 'em — in previous years. So that's the way the games have gone, so we were due. It was time to get that taken care of."

UNKNOWN QUANTITY: In an interview aired Sunday night on KUTV Channel 2, Xavier coach Chris Mack admitted that his knowledge about Weber State was limited.

"I don't know anything about Weber State, just as a year ago I didn't know anything about Ole Miss or BYU," said Mack, who was paired up against the winner of the Mississippi-BYU game won by Ole Miss last year. "Thank heavens we don't play the game right now. Weber State should feel the same way. That's why we have four or five days to get ready to play on Friday night.

"Anytime you win 26, 27 games like (Weber State) did, I mean, obviously they've got a successful team, and a team that a couple years ago played Arizona down to the wire (68-59). So we'll have to prepare this week to be ready to go on Friday night.

"I think that this tournament's all about getting hot at times, just playing your best basketball when it matters the most," Mack said. "And that's what we aim to do. I'm sure matchups have something to do with it, but we only worry about what we can control, and that is being ready on Friday night for Weber State and nothing more than that. I don't take the step-back view of overall why teams do well; we just sort of get in that tunnel and figure out a way to beat this team that we play Friday."

RAHE FEELS SAME WAY: In an interview with KUTV sportscaster David James that aired Sunday night, WSU's Coach Rahe said he didn't know a whole lot about Xavier, either.

But he and his staff were going to be busy Sunday night and Monday making sure they knew everything possible about the Musketeers of the Big East Conference.

"I've only seen 'em play once, so I don't know their team particularly well," Rahe said. "But I do know they're very tough, very physical, and they had a great year and play in a great conference. They're tough, physical, athletic and really, really guard you. They're obviously a high, high-quality basketball team."

Rahe said he and his staff would definitely be closely watching game film from Xavier's two losses to Seton Hall.

"Absolutely, we'll watch the two Seton Hall films, and we'll watch their Villanova film, too," the Wildcats' coach said. "We'll watch 'em at their best and see some things maybe when they didn't play at their best and try to take advantage of some things that other teams did to them.

"We'll have every game that they played and we'll talk to some people that can help us as well. I'm kinda glad we're playing on Friday because it gives us an extra day or two to get ready for 'em."