The Weber State University men’s basketball team outlasted their in-state rival Aggies of Utah State University on opening night, beating them 65–59 to kick off the 2017-18 season.
After grabbing the opening tip-off, the Wildcats started the night by jumping out to a quick 10-point lead, overpowering the Aggies 12–2 in the opening five minutes.
Redshirt junior center Zach Braxton paced the Wildcats all night with a notable performance both offensively and defensively, but he set the tone early with a vicious block leading to a slam dunk. The Dee Events Center roared as the popping of the rim hit everyone’s ears.
“It was a really cool moment. We had a ton of fans out there tonight and we could feel the energy the whole game,” Braxton said.
Combined with shooting trouble by the Aggies, the Weber State defense held tight early in the contest. The Aggies were forced to put up difficult two-point shots while not getting many clean looks from behind the 3-point line.
Head coach Randy Rahe spoke to the importance of defense, rebounding and contesting three-point shots as the ‘Cats out-rebounded Utah State with 36 rebounds compared to the 32 from the Aggies.
“You have to try and win games with defense and rebounding and I thought our kids really bought into that,” Rahe said. “They have been buying into that, and it’s nice to see that you can maybe have a little success emphasizing what you try to emphasize.”
Braxton led Weber State with eight total rebounds. Freshman Michal Kozak, senior Ryan Richardson and senior Dusty Baker contributing six rebounds each for the ’Cats.
Richardson led the Wildcats in overall scoring on the night, finishing with a team-high 20 points. He shot just under 50 percent, including four three-pointers.
Richardson said, “A lot of the ones I missed, they probably weren’t the best shots, but my teammates were getting me the ball in situations where I could make a shot or make something happen, so I have to give it to my teammates on that one.”
The Wildcats only had eight players available against the Aggies, with three of the eight being true freshman.
Although Weber State sent the Aggies to the free throw line often in the second half, Rahe was optimistic about how the team was able to slow the game down.
“I hated that we were picking up fouls and putting them at the line, but in some ways, our guys got to rest and I got to play our older guys more minutes because it gave us a chance to catch our breath,” Rahe said.
As a team, the Wildcats made 13 free throws on 16 attempts, as well as grabbing eight steals, blocking six shots and knocking down six total three-point shots.
Playing in his first regular season game as a Wildcat after transferring from The University of Utah, junior forward Brekkott Chapman added 10 points on the night as well. Defensively, he added three rebounds and two blocked shots.
Paying homage to former Wildcat and current Portland Trailblazer Damian Lillard, the Wildcats sported several different color schemes in both the Adidas Dame 3’s and Dame 4’s.
After losing several senior players from last year’s roster such as Jeremy Senglin and Kyndahl Hill, Rahe is seeing many players step up in leadership roles such as Braxton, Baker and Chapman.
“We have a lot of guys, but Zach Braxton might be as good a leader as I’ve ever been around while I’ve been here at Weber State,” Rahe said. “That guy was born to lead and kids follow him.”
The Wildcats have now beaten Utah State twice in a row for the first time since the 1998–99 seasons, as Weber State also beat the Aggies last year in Logan 77–71.