On Monday night, the Weber State University men’s basketball team faced its toughest challenge of the year when it faced Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. WSU lost 87-70. On Sunday night, WSU knocked off Jacksonville State University, 73-63.
The Wildcats started the game out strong against JSU. Damian Lillard and Kyle Bullinger each hit an early three to help WSU take a six-point lead early on.
JSU answered back and tied the game at 11 a few minutes later. WSU Head Coach Randy Rahe switched up the defensive scheme and was able build a lead. With 10 minutes left in the half, WSU had a 19-11 lead.
There were many Wildcat fans in the crowd, with the game taking place near Lillard’s hometown. He got the crowd on their feet with a big dunk over two Gamecocks. On WSU’s next possession, Lillard converted again on a layup to extend the WSU lead.
At the half, WSU had a 14-point lead. Lillard was the leading scorer, with 10 points.
The Wildcats started out hot in the second half, with Bullinger and Lillard hitting threes to extend the lead to 43-27. After a good start to the half, WSU started to struggle, shooting only 40 percent from the field for the first part of the second half.
The Gamecocks started to change up their defensive scheme to try and stop WSU’s offense. Head Coach Randy Rahe said that caused some problems for WSU and allowed JSU to get back in the game.
“They basically just said ‘screw it,’” Rahe said. “We’re going to go junk this game up and see if it works. . . It screwed us up a little bit, but we stayed aggressive for the most part.”
Despite the defensive challenges, WSU was able to knock off the Gamecocks 73-63. With the win, WSU improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1985. Lillard led the ’Cats with a game-high 23 points. The win set up a Monday night matchup with SMC, one of the top mid-major schools in the nation.
Monday’s game got off to a fast start with both teams trading baskets early on. The lead changed hands multiple times during the first part of the first half.
Defensively, the Gaels focused in on Scott Bamforth, who was double-teamed for much of the game. Lillard said having so many dangerous shooters on the court benefits the team, since defenders have to worry about multiple different scoring threats.
“If we have somebody like Scott,” Lillard said, “they’ve got to respect him, like they respect me. That’s what we’ve turned ourselves into, a team where everyone steps up.”
While SMC keyed in on Bamforth, Lillard had a big game for the Wildcats. Lillard single-handedly tried to keep the Wildcats alive as he tied his career-high with 36 points. He had 26 points in the second half, including scoring 21 straight points for WSU over a 10-minute stretch of play.
Thanks to Lillard’s strong play, the Wildcats took a 32-31 lead into the half.
The Gaels took over in the second half and ran away with the game. Rahe said overall, the team played well, but couldn’t close it out.
“We played hard for 30 minutes,” Rahe said. “The last 10 minutes, they got some rebounds, and the game got away from us.”
Kyle Tresnak also had a strong game for WSU. He contributed 17 points for the ’Cats. Rahe said Tresnak had a strong game and played well against a tough and physical SMC team.
“They had no answer for him to be honest with you,” Rahe said. “If he had made his free throws, he would have had a real big night. He deserved to have a big night”
WSU will return home to face San Jose State University this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Dee Events Center. That game will be part of a doubleheader with the WSU women’s basketball team, which will also play SJSU. The women’s game with the Spartans will begin at 5:00 p.m.