For a guy who played only 16 minutes, Mike Weisner sure made an impression during the Montana men’s basketball team’s title-clinching win over Weber State last Tuesday.
Weisner, a 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman from Walla Walla, Wash., averages just 7 minutes a game for the Big Sky regular-season champs, but saw extended time when Derek Selvig went to the bench with foul trouble.
During a stretch of 2 minutes, 27 seconds, Weisner scored four points, blocked a shot and came up with a steal as the Griz went from trailing 16-10 to leading 17-16. The run grew to 14 straight points and the Griz never trailed again.
“It means a lot just to help my team out,” Weisner said after the Grizzlies practiced for 90 minutes Sunday afternoon at Dahlberg Arena. “I haven’t done much all year, so I just try to come in and be productive. It was good to have a good game like that.”
Kareem Jamar started the game-changing run with a 3-pointer, cutting the gap to 16-13. Darin Mahoney missed a jumper for Weber at the other end and Mathias Ward grabbed the rebound and got the ball to Will Cherry, who in turn found Weisner ahead of the pack for the layup.
“Their bigs were a little slow getting back and I wanted to take advantage of that, so I just took off,” Weisner said.
The teams traded misses before Weisner blocked a shot by Gelaun Wheelwright out of bounds. Then with the shot clock winding down, Weisner deflected a pass, came up with the steal and went coast-to-coast for the bucket that ended up putting the Griz ahead for good at 17-16.
“I saw the shot clock was getting low and (Cherry) did a good job of stopping the ball,” Weisner said. “The next closest guy was in my area, so I just jumped the passing lane.”
Weisner appeared undecided about whether to simply go in for the layup, or to dunk it.
“I was kind of cold coming off the bench, so I just decided to lay it in,” Weisner said. “Actually my steps did get a little mixed up, but I wanted to focus on making it.”
Weisner was a redshirt as the Griz made a run to their second straight appearance in the league title game last season. The year on the bench did him good, he admits.
“I was kind of slow adjusting to the college game at first, so I think it helped me out a lot,” Weisner said. “It would have been about halfway through the season until I adjusted last year, so it was good to be fully prepared this year for the college level.”
Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said the staff wanted to see Weisner get a little tougher.
“There are some things you can see, but until a guy really is competing for playing time, that’s when you have to evaluate,” Tinkle said. “We were patient with Mike and we were up front over the spring and summer what we were going to need to see moving forward for him to earn an opportunity. That’s where I think I’m the most proud: He’s shown a consistent effort from the end of last spring through the summer and the fall of going after it every day. That’s why he’s earned what he’s gotten this year.”
The Big Sky’s final four all have practice times scheduled for Monday in Dahlberg Arena ahead of Tuesday’s semifinals.
Weber State has the floor at 3 p.m., followed by Montana at 4:30, Portland State at 6:10 and Eastern Washington at 7:45.
The Grizzlies’ 48-16 Big Sky Conference regular-season record the past four seasons under Tinkle matches their best stretch since the conference was formed in 1963. UM also went 48-16 in Big Sky play the four seasons from 1988-92; the first three of those came under Stew Morrill, the last one under Blaine Taylor.
UM has twice lost just 17 league games over a four-season stretch, going 39-17 under Mike Montgomery in 1980-84 and 45-17 under Morrill and Taylor in 1989-93. Conference expansion accounts for the difference in game totals.
The current Griz enter this week’s Big Sky tourney with a four-year overall record of 83-39.
In more than a century of basketball, UM’s best overall four-year period is the 89-33 mark it posted in 1988-92, which was capped by back-to-back Big Sky regular-season and tournament titles.
Tinkle was the leader of the 1988-89 team that went 20-11, then passed the torch to fellow center Daren Engellant, who anchored UM to subsequent records of 19-10, 23-8 and 27-4. Kevin Kearney, Delvon Anderson and Roger Fasting were other Griz standouts during those glory years.
FASTBREAKS: Griz senior Jordan Wood took a shot to the face during Sunday’s practice and left the floor with a bloody nose. He did not return. ... Reserve wing Kevin Henderson was in street clothes for practice again after missing workouts on Thursday and Friday with what appears to be an injured foot or ankle. ... The Griz did not qualify for the first two Big Sky tournaments in 1976-77, but have since qualified for the postseason in 33 of 35 seasons. ... Montana has faced Eastern Washington just three times in the postseason, and each time the Griz ended up in the NCAA tournament. The Griz beat the Eagles 70-66 in the 2002 title game in Bozeman, 58-48 in the first round in Missoula in 2005 when they went on to beat Weber State in the championship in Portland, and 74-71 in overtime over Rodney Stuckey’s Eagles in the semifinals in 2006, when they knocked off host Northern Arizona for the crown.
Sports editor Bob Meseroll can be reached at 523-5265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.