The Weber State women’s basketball team began their 2019-2020 quest with an exhibition against the Western Colorado Mountaineers. WSU battled hard but slipped at the end which allowed the Mountaineers to steal a 58–49 victory in the Dee Events Center.

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The Wildcats lock down on their defense on the Mountaineers (Israel Campa / The SIgnpost)

In the opening period of the game, it was the Mountaineers that came out and took a commanding 8-0 lead against a WSU team that looked to be rushing things on offense. Eventually, they settled down, and after a three-point basketball from junior forward Kayla Watkins, the game became tight. The quarter ended with Western Colorado leading 12–11.

The Wildcats rolled with a starting lineup that featured Kayla Watkins and sophomore Ciara James in the post, junior Liz Graves and sophomore Kori Pentzer on the wings and freshmen Ula Chamberlain. Both Graves and Chamberlain were starters making their debut. Graves was forced to sit out last season after transferring from Brigham Young University.

Second-year head coach Velaida Harris utilized her first-year players early as both Daryn Hikok and Jadyn Matthews got early minutes, making that three freshmen to play in the first quarter. Shyanne Loiland also saw early playing time: she entered the game in the second period.

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Ciara James and Liz Graves were successful in stopping the opponent from scoring (Israel Campa / The Signpost)

The Wildcats used eight players during the game, and half of those players were freshmen. Despite the loss, Watkins felt their presence.

“They did good, they stepped up and we need that. It’s very hard to transition from high school to Big Sky basketball and it shows that they’ve been putting in work this past summer,” Watkins said.

In the second quarter, both teams stayed neck-and-neck as they matched points and defensive stops. WSU held a one-point advantage at the end of the second quarter. The Wildcats were shooting 9–20 from the field and 4–11 at the free-throw line. On the other end, the Mountaineers shot 8–29 from the field and 3–4 from the line.

Pacing the Wildcats in scoring was the junior tandem of Graves and Watkins. Graves scored seven points, had four rebounds and came up with four steals. Watkins shot 4–5 from the field, 1–2 from three-point land and 3–4 from the charity stripe. Leading the team in minutes was Ciara James who played 18:24 of the 20. She had 2 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks.

The second half saw more of the same from the first half: neither team could create space, and a buzzer-beating three-pointer gifted Western Colorado a 39-38 lead heading into the 4th. The Mountaineers player who knocked down the three-point basket to end the quarter scored back-to-back triples to push the lead out to 45-39.

After matched buckets, the Wildcats found themselves down six points with just under six minutes left. Five minutes passed and the deficit was still the same, so hope began to slip away.

When the final buzzer rang and the dust settled, it was a 58-49 win for WCU over the ‘Cats. Fortunately for the Wildcats, all this game counts as is a scrimmage. The loss does not go against their record, and it allows the coaching staff to see how their team handles game situations.

On a night where baskets had to be earned, Kayla Watkins finished with 19 points and led the team in scoring, which is something that Harris believes she can do every night.

“When Kayla decides to be physical and play how she should, she can play,” Harris said. “She can shoot the three and she’s physical on the inside, so she’s pretty versatile.”

This game resulted in a loss for WSU, but now it goes out the window. The real thing begins on Nov. 5 against the 11th ranked UCLA Bruins.

“Composure… that’s what it is all about. UCLA is a monster, we know that,” Coach Harris added. “We need to see somebody early that is going to be playing in the postseason. If we want to play in the postseason, we have to understand what it takes.”

Weber State will travel to Los Angeles with an upset on their minds before returning home for the home opener against the Portland Pilots on Nov. 9.

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