OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- One year after a last-place finish, David Patten was being carried off the court by Weber State fans.
Patten, the league's MVP, scored a team-high 22 points Wednesday night, leading the Wildcats to the Big Sky Conference tournament title with an 88-80 victory over Northern Arizona.
The win put the Wildcats (20-11, 12-5) into the NCAA tournament for the 14th time in school history, the first since 2003.
Patten was the only returning starter from the team that finished last in the conference a year ago. Under first-year coach Randy Rahe, the Wildcats engineered one of the most surprising turnarounds in Big Sky history.
"You imagine it, sure," Patten said. "I don't know if we thought it was doable, but it was a goal."
And the personal escort around the Wildcats' court?
"That was fun," he said. "That was the best ride I ever had."
Weber State let Northern Arizona (19-12, 11-6) back into the game after building up a 21-point lead in the first half. The hosts shot 72 percent from the floor in the first period.
But the Lumberjacks' Josh Wilson converted an easy layup with 4:55 to play to cut the deficit to 75-73. It was the closest Northern Arizona would get, but the Wildcats wouldn't exhale until Dezmon Harris' drive with a minute to play put them up 83-77.
Northern Arizona was forced to foul to regain possession, and Weber State converted from the free throw line.
"We came out just feeling good..." Harris said. "But we kind of messed it up in the second half."
Harris was close behind Patten with 20 points. Juan Pablo Silveira had 21.
The Wildcats took full advantage of being at home, making 16 of their first 19 shots and shooting better than 84 percent through the first 10 minutes. They took a 53-37 lead into the half.
But Northern Arizona wasn't going away that easily. Stephen Sir led the comeback, scoring 12 of his 23 points in the second half. He was helped by the plucky play of Wilson, a guard who didn't shy away from going inside, and Ruben Boykin, who scored 24 points.
The Lumberjacks also used an edge on the boards in their comeback bid, outrebounding Weber State 34-19.
Weber State lost to Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAAs in 2003. But it has something of a reputation as an upset team, having beat North Carolina in the first round in 1999 and Michigan State in the first round in '95.
Who would the Wildcats like to see announced, as their opponent on selection Sunday, this year?
"One of the top five teams in the nation," Patten said. "Why not?"