On Tuesday night in its first real test of the year, the Weber State University men’s basketball team knocked off in-state rival Utah State University 73-63 at the Dee Events Center.
WSU Head Coach Randy Rahe said the win was an important stepping stone for the Wildcats this year.
“Games like this,” Rahe said, “really mean a lot. Playing against coach Morrel’s team, you know it’s going to be a grind. This game really made our team happy.”
The opening minutes of the game were fast and frenzied, with both teams trading baskets early on. Damian Lillard gave the ‘Cats the lead five minutes into the game. He cut through the lane and hit an off-balanced layup to make it an 11-10 lead for WSU.
Scott Bamforth sparked the Wildcat offense in the first half, hitting three straight three-point shots. WSU was also helped by a strong defensive performance. The team forced three turnovers early in the game.
Bamforth said that having Lillard in the game helped create other shots for others on the court.
“I think tonight was a good night for our team,” Bamforth said. “We were finding the open guy and were playing great together. Luckily, I was able to hit some of the shots I took, but it all goes back to my teammates giving me opportunities and finding me when I’m open.”
USU’s Brockieth Pane tried to spark a run hitting a three, but was answered immediately by Bamforth, who hit his fourth three of the game, and ninth straight three of the season.
Throughout the second part of the half, the Wildcats were able to build a comfortable lead thanks in large part to their three-point shooting and lockdown defense. WSU hit a team total of eight three’s in the first half.
The Wildcats also were able to score nine points off of six USU turnovers.
The Aggies started the second half off strong, coming out and scoring the first basket of the half to excite their crowd. The Wildcats didn’t respond for two minutes, when Bullinger drove down the lane and hit a fade away for the first WSU points of the half.
After struggling in the first half to establish an inside game, Frank Otis got things going for the ‘Cats. After passing the ball around the perimeter, Otis got the ball, cut inside and hit a difficult layup to give WSU a 47-31 lead.
USU, however, answered back and pulled within 10 points with 15 minutes to go in the game. The Wildcats put a quick end to the Aggie rally with Bamforth and Bullinger hitting back to back threes to make it 57-39 with just over 12 minutes to go in the half.
Once again with 10 minutes to go, the Aggies tried to mount another come back and managed to cut the lead to 10 points before Bamforth once again answered by hitting his seventh three of the night.
Preston Medlin got the Aggies within seven points with 4:32 left in the game. He hit an off-balance three from the corner to bring USU close and setting up a fevered final four minutes of play.
Otis had a chance to extend the WSU lead when he went to the line with just over two minutes remaining. However, he missed both shots. The Aggies then went back down the court and Brady Jardine cut the lead to six, making it 67-61 with 2:08 left.
After a USU rebound, the Aggies were breaking down the court with a chance to cut the lead to four, but Lillard made an impressive defensive play to seal the WSU victory.
Following the game, USU Head Coach Stew Morrill said that his team was outplayed by the Wildcats, and he felt WSU was the better team.
“The point is,” Morrill said, “they’re a better team, and they kicked our butts.”
The Wildcats will now travel to California where they’ll face the University of California Irvine on Saturday.