The Weber State University men’s basketball team faced its biggest challenge of the Big Sky Conference season on Saturday night against Portland State University.
At one point, the Wildcats trailed by 15 points but came back to take an 88-81 victory on the road. Damian Lillard came up big for WSU with 38 points, 23 of which came in the first half. Lillard also hit eight 3-pointers, only one away from the school record of most 3-pointers made in a game.
Head Coach Randy Rahe said that to see the team respond well, and that the come-from-behind win, was the most satisfying of the season.
“We hung in and kept fighting and never gave up,” Rahe said. “Portland State played a terrific game but we just kept fighting and playing tough and found a way to win. We had great leadership for our veteran players.”
The Vikings took the lead early on, going up 9-5 four minutes into the game. Damian Lillard pulled the Wildcats within one with a 3-pointer from the wing just before the media timeout.
PSU answered back and pushed its lead to 10 points.
Play was stopped when WSU’s James Hajek went down with a knee injury, which added to the injury woes that have plagued the Wildcats this year.
Lillard worked hard to keep the ’Cats in the game, hitting four 3-pointers in the first part of the first half, to keep the Vikings lead to 10 points for much of the half, but towards the end of the half, PSU started to pull away.
The Vikings extended their lead and went up 49-34. Despite the strong first-half performance by PSU, Lillard had a strong half. He racked up 23 first-half points, including a half-court buzzer beater to cut the Viking’s halftime lead to 51-44.
WSU built on the momentum of Lillard’s buzzer beater and scored the first points of the second half, cutting the PSU lead to five points, but WSU was unable to get any closer in the first five minutes of the half.
At the midpoint of the half, WSU started to make a come back. The ’Cats were pressing PSU and cut the PSU lead to three with a 3-pointer from Scott Bamforth.
With 15 minutes remaining, PSU answered back and went on a 6-0 run, pushing the lead back to nine points and forcing the Wildcats to take a timeout.
Once again, the Wildcats made a run, cutting into the PSU lead. Lillard pulled the ’Cats within four points with 12 minutes left in the game.
Lillard pulled the Wildcats within one after faking a 3-point shot. He drove down the lane and hit a reverse layup to make it 69-68. On WSU’s next possession, Lillard tied the game at 71 with his 32nd point of the game.
With six minutes remaining, WSU took the lead for only the second time in the game on a foul shot by Bamforth, but PSU answered right back and tied the game again at 74.
Bamforth, who had 21 points, said that the win was a total team effort, and that at the end of the game, WSU was able to come up with some key defensive stops.
“It was a great win for us,” Bamforth said. “We found a way to come together again and pull it out.”
The Vikings continued to challenge WSU in the last five minutes, but the Wildcats held off the PSU attack and completed their comeback with an 88-81 victory.
With the win, WSU improves to 12-3 overall and 4-0 in conference play for the first time since 2002-03, when they went undefeated in Big Sky Conference play. The Wildcats will now return to the Dee Events Center where they will face Montana State University on Jan. 12.