The Dee Events Center played host to a Big Sky battle between the red-hot Weber State Wildcats (15-7) and the North Dakota Fighting Hawks (8-15) on Feb. 8. The Wildcats won their sixth straight game with a score of 84-76.
The last time these two teams faced off, the Fighting Hawks knocked off the Cats. Junior forward Zach Braxton gave his team credit for the changes they’ve made in the past few weeks. He said that the team North Dakota faced tonight was in a much different mindset.
Heading into the game, Weber State found themselves at second place in conference standings and looking to climb their way to the top. The conference-leader Montana Grizzlies have three more wins than the Wildcats.
The first half began with a large amount of defense and frustrations on offense. Through the first seven minutes of the game, both teams combined scored only 14 points.
The struggles would be short lived, however, as both teams began to find their stride, and both offenses began to light up the basket. The half ended with a tight fight for the lead, with Weber State leading 31–29.
When the second half began, the student section had flags waving and were looking to energize the Wildcats, but UND scored a quick bucket to tie things up right away.
This would continue for the next three minutes, setting the tenor of the second half greatly different than the first.
The second half was a back and forth struggle between the two teams. When one team made a defensive stop, the other would do the same, and both teams fought without success to build any sort of lead .
Weber State head coach Randy Rahe said regarding North Dakota, “They’re a tough matchup. Sometimes, you play teams where you just don’t match up very well, and this has been a team the last year or two who we have not matched up well with and the way they play. It bothers us.
With just under 10 minutes left, the Wildcats caught a spark. Sophomore guard Jerrick Harding scored on a drive, followed by an emphatic block by junior forward Brekkott Chapman. Building on the run, senior Zack Braxton capitalized on a 3-point play after being fouled on a dunk. Finally, a high flying dunk by Harding brought the hometown fans at the Dee Events Center to their feet. This sequence of events provided the Wildcats with a 61-53 lead before UND called a timeout.
“We were hoping to just make a little push, we kept telling them in the huddle, ‘let’s make a couple plays and make our push,'” Rahe said. “We got enough of a push to separate us.”
As the second half continued, momentum continued to shift. The Wildcats were converting on offense and stepping up on defense. Even the student section was able to get in on the action with some trash talk with one of the Fighting Hawks.
Matthew Thorpe, a freshman at WSU, can commonly be found in the student section during basketball games. After the game, he spoke on the impact the active student section had on the game.
“We had a wild atmosphere in the student section tonight,” Thorpe said. “We were really able to get into the other teams heads and had a few players talking back because they were so frustrated.”
Basketball is a game of runs, however, and with 2:20 left, UND was able to tie the game up at 69 each. The Wildcats were able to battle and take a 74-71 lead, and with 55 seconds left in the game, Chapman found senior guard Dusty Baker for a deep 3-pointer to push the lead out to six points.
WSU was fouled throughout the last minute and hit their free throws to seal an 84-76 win over the Hawks.
Rahe wasn’t thrilled about every aspect of his team’s play, but he was proud that they pulled out the victory.
“Sometimes, you gotta win ugly,” Rahe said.