MISSOULA — Timmy Falls was a top scorer and all-around threat at Dublin High School in California — and Weber State wanted him.
But the Wildcats were too late to the party.
The Montana Grizzlies had already been heavily recruiting Falls since he was a sophomore, and he was set on committing after he made the trip to Missoula for the nationally televised football game against North Dakota State in 2015.
Although Weber State could’ve potentially offered more early playing time and scoring opportunities as a freshman, Falls passed on the Wildcats because he saw potential for the collection of talent Montana would have.
After a slow start in non-conference play, he’s been a crucial part of the eight-player rotation that’s gotten the Griz within one game of their first outright Big Sky title since 2013, which they could clinch against Weber State 7 p.m. Thursday at Dahlberg Arena.
The young Wildcats, who are limited to a seven-man rotation because of injuries, had won nine games in a row and were tied for first place with Montana before they were swept at home by Eastern Washington and Idaho last week
“It’s kind of special because they offered me and I know the coaches very well, but at the end of the day, we’re just trying to get the win,” Falls said. “All we’re worried about is winning the game and trying to stop their defense and their shooters.”
On a team laden with scoring talent, he's earned his minutes off the bench because of his ability to pass the ball and defend quicker players.
He showed some of the scoring abilities Weber State coveted when he tied his career high with 14 points in Saturday's win over Montana State as the Griz struggled offensively and were hurt by foul trouble. He's normally good for an occasional 3-pointer, shooting a team-high 43.5 percent.
From the Bay Area, Falls grew up watching players like Baron Davis, Monta Ellis, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, developing a passing touch to go along with his scoring. In high school, he started a superstition he still continues: drinking a Dr. Pepper a couple hours before every game.
Seemingly always on the verge of a head-turning pass, he’s third on the Griz with 1.6 assists per game and is second in assists per minute (0.095), trailing only Ahmaad Rorie (0.101).
“I think he enjoys passing the way I did,” said Griz head coach Travis DeCuire, the program’s all-time and single-season assists leader. “That’s rare. I don’t think there’s very many basketball players in this day and age who enjoy passing. Everyone wants to score.”
On the defensive end, his biggest adjustment has been getting stronger mentally and physically. He was initially intimidated going up against juniors and seniors.
He’ll play a vital role defensively when the Griz face a Weber State squad that can spread the floor with four or five players at a time who are shooting over 42.3 percent on 3-pointers. They rely on ball screens to get open shots, and how the Griz and Falls use their speed to defend that will be a key factor.
“He’s really bouncy, has a good skill level, could shoot the ball really well and has enough athleticism to make plays,” said Weber State head coach Randy Rahe, who became the Big Sky's all-time wins leader this season. “We thought he was a good player, and he will be a good player at Montana. He has a quiet self-confidence about himself.”
The Wildcats rank second in Division I shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc. Their 267 made 3-pointers — 9.5 per game — is tied for 37th.
Weber State sophomore guard Jerrick Harding leads all Big Sky players with 21.4 points per game while shooting 53 percent from the floor and 43.4 percent on 3-pointers.
Senior guard Ryan Richardson leads the league with 3.4 3-point makes per game.
Senior wing Dusty Baker is connecting on a league-best 54 percent of his 3-pointers. He leads the league with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.9.
Zach Braxton and Brekkott Chapman, both 6-foot-9 forwards, can score down low and clog up the paint, matching up with Jamar Akoh and Fabijan Krslovic, unlike the majority of Big Sky teams.