Sunday, March 8, 2009

From Wildcats to Vikings

I will give my partner, Jerry Miller, credit: he foresaw the upset by Montana State over Montana in Missoula last night. As a result of that Bobcat win, the Bengals slide up to the first Big Sky Conference semifinal Tuesday night against Portland State at 5 p.m. in Ogden. Had the Griz held homecourt, which most of us expected, the Bengals would have been playing the host Wildcats in the semifinal nightcap.

The Bengals split with PSU this year, coughing up 30 points off turnovers in a Vikings rout at the Stott Center in January, then putting five ISU players in double figures in a nine-point Bengal win at Holt Arena a month later.

Needless to say, the Bengals took much better care of the basketball in round two, committing only seven turnovers and yielding just eight points off those TOs. Matt Stucki had one of those signature nights he's authored a few times this, his senior year, putting up 25 points, four assists and seven rebounds in 40 minutes of play. Chron Tatum put together a double-double (13 points and 10 rebounds), and the Bengals held PSU to 10 of 30 shooting from three-point range.

Which Bengal team will show up in Ogden Tuesday: the ISU team that finished the regular season so efficient and fluid on offense, with everybody contributing; or the Bengal team that was offensively stagnant and reliant on basically two players, Stucki and Amorrow Morgan, to produce points?

In the Bengal win over Northern Colorado Saturday night, we saw glimpses of both. The Bears put a physical defense on the Bengals, bumping and shoving cutters, chesting up on dribblers and applying enough pressure that ISU frequently had to initiate its offense out near half-court. But unlike earlier this season, when that defensive pressure resulted in fatal offensive slumps, the Bengals kept fighting through the Bears' resistance.

Stucki led the way with another awesome performance (how about that dunk over Devin Beitzel above? -- not to mention a rare four-point play when he got fouled hitting a trey). But unlike earlier in the season, when it was Stucki and Morgan against the world, the Bengals got solid play from a number of other places. Even though Austin Kilpatrick struggled shooting the three-ball, he still hit all four of his free throws, wound up with 10 points and led ISU in rebounding and assists. Donnie Carson, meanwhile, went for 12 points, six rebounds, three assists and four steals. And Felix Caspari, the Brazilian Energizer Bunny, came up with eight points and three rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench.

So even though the Bears' physical defense sidetracked Morgan, a bruised knee neutralized Tatum and foul trouble sidelined center Lucas Steijn, the Bengals had enough to win. Survive and advance, that's what the post-season is all about, and even though it wasn't an artistic effort by either team, the Bengals live to play another day. And that's something the Montana Grizzlies can't say today.

Kudos to the Bengal Crowd

ISU Interim Athletic Director Jeff Tingey said Saturday night's crowd of 2,938 was the second largest actual crowd of the season, behind the over 4,000 announced for the BYU game. That's because just about every one of the 2,938 was actually in the building. Announced crowds include tickets sold, and in past games, ISU included season ticket holders who may or may not have used their seats that night. But everybody had to buy a ticket, even season ticket holders and students, for Saturday night's game and it sure seemed like all 2.938 used those tickets.

It was a great crowd, and they gave the Bengals an emotional lift at times when they were struggling, particularly in the first half, when the Bears took a six-point lead and ISU was having a hard time getting shots to fall. And it was great to see the response the crowd gave Stucki as he made his final victory lap around the Holt Arena floor after playing his final game there.

The nice turnout also helps the Bengals financially. The Bengals had to guarantee Northern Colorado $25,000 for the first-round game. Last year, ISU lost money on the opening round win over Montana, but recouped it and more by advancing to the semifinals, where each visiting team is guaranteed $75,000. I don't know if Saturday night's turnout will cover the full guarantee, but the more ticket buyers, the better. And of course winning Saturday night means the Bengals will get another nice semifinal payday.

One more note on finances -- if you're going down to Ogden for the game Tuesday, make sure you purchase tickets from the ISU ticket office before you go. Each school is required to purchase a certain number of tickets for the tournament, and if you buy the tickets in Ogden, you'll be donating money to Weber State's athletic program rather than the Bengals'.

If you come to Ogden, drop by the broadcast table and say hello to Jerry and I. We always look forward to talking to Bengal fans.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun -- especially at tourney time!

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