On the eve of his team hosting fellow Big Sky Conference powerhouse Montana, Weber State head coach Randy Rahe called UM senior Sayeed Pridgett the best player in the league.
Weber’s veteran head coach mentioned his respect for Pridgett in answering a question on Tootell and Nuanez about Pridgett’s Grizzlies sitting atop the league entering Saturday’s matchup between UM and WSU in Ogden Saturday night.
For stretches, Pridgett looked just like the conference MVP candidate Rahe described on the statewide radio and television broadcast in Montana. Pridgett swished a 3-pointer with three seconds left in the first half to give Montana a 43-36 lead. He entered the locker room with 17 points.
The 6-foot-4 slasher scored six points in six minutes to help UM retake the momentum after Weber tied the game at 49 with 14 minutes, 49 seconds left. The Oakland native’s jumper with eight minutes left gave UM a 64-55 advantage.
The returning first-team All-Big Sky talent ended the evening with 33 points. But many of his crucial buckets were off-set by forced shots down the stretch. Pridgett missed 10 of his 14 shots after halftime, including three shots in the final two minutes. His missed jumper with 37 seconds left allowed Weber State to stay alive and he missed a free throw that could’ve given his team a three-point lead in the game’s final minute.
Instead, Weber State senior Jerrick Harding scored at the rim with seven seconds in regulation to force overtime. And Pridgett’s final turnover with 27 seconds left in the extra period let Weber seal a crucial and, at least this season, rare conference victory.
Weber State closed regulation on an 8-1 run to force overtime, then the hosts won the extra period to earn an 87-85 win over the first-place Griz. The win moves Weber State to 3-6 in league, including 2-3 in games decided by a single possession.
The loss drops Montana to 7-2 in league play, 11-9 overall. In a league that has seen 19 one-possession finals already this season, UM lost for the first time in four such games despite the career-high scoring total for Pridgett. He finished 14-of-29 from the floor and also grabbed eight rebounds in a full 45 minutes of action.
The last time the two most successful programs in the 57-year history of the Big Sky squared off, Montana destroyed Weber State. UM sent the Wildcats packing with a 78-49 win in the semifinals of the Big Sky Tournament in Boise.
The tournament win helped Montana advance to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the decade, the most in the league. WSU has won 22 regular-season Big Sky titles and eight conference tournaments, including four since 2003. Montana has advanced to the Big Dance eight times since 2002.
On Saturday, a Weber team that has battled injuries all season finally seemed to click, winning a tight contest just two nights after falling 62-61 to Montana State. Amin Adamu hit a shot with four seconds left to lift the Bobcats to their first win in Ogden since 2009 on Thursday.
That loss along with a 65-64 home defeat to Northern Colorado, a 69-68 home win over Idaho and a 79-77 home loss to Eastern Washington had Weber State staring up at pretty much every team in the league at the start of the day Saturday.
Harding, the Big Sky’s preseason Player of the Year, followed up his 31-point outing against MSU by pouring in 32 points against the Grizzlies. He hit five of his nine shots from beyond the 3-point line on a night WSU hit 9-of-18 from deep. Harding was 10-of-19 from the floor and 7-of-7 from the free throw line.
Senior guard Cody John scored 19 points. WSU junior Michal Kozak scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the hosts.
For Montana, junior combo guard Timmy Falls had his best offensive game of the season. He converted a season-high seven field goals and scored a season-best 16 points, finishing 7-of-9 from the floor and 2-of-3 from the arc. But he fouled out in 27 minutes while chasing Harding and John.
UM freshman Josh Vazquez got off his shooting snide. The steady, solid point guard had earned the praise of UM head coach Travis DeCuire for his demeanor, preparation and basketball IQ. But his shooting had struggled. He entered the game having made just five of his 35 shots in league play and none of his 18 attempts from deep.
Saturday, Vazquez hit his first 3-pointer late in the first half and made three more in a row. He finished with 12 points after scoring just 17 in his first eight conference games combined.
Griz senior Kendal Manuel shot the lights out over Montana’s first eight conference games (50.5 percent from the floor, 50 percent from deep, 91.4 percent from the free throw line). Saturday, he went 5-of-17 from the floor and 0-of- 5 from the arc even though UM shot 8-of-16 from 3. Manuel scored 10 points.
Montana travels to Portland State on Thursday before hosting rival Montana State on Saturday. The Griz defeated PSU 85-70 in Missoula earlier this month. The Vikings lost 83-81 at Northern Arizona on Saturday.