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Israel Barnes throws in a 2 pointer. Nikki Dorber / The Signpost

In Weber State’s first home game since the end of winter break, they found themselves in what might be the game of the year in the Big Sky Conference. Late baskets were exchanged, and the Northern Colorado Bears found themselves walking out of the Dee Events Center with their first-ever win in Ogden.

After the game, junior forward Michal Kozak, who tallied 13 points, 18 rebounds and seven blocks, was disappointed but remains confident as Big Sky play carries on.

“There’s a lot of conference games left, what matters is what’s going to happen at the end. We are just going to stay with it, stay confident and show who we are at the end of the season,” Kozak said.

The Wildcats entered Thursday’s match-up with a 5-9 record and 1-2 in conference play as they’ve battled through numerous injuries throughout the young season. The latest victims of the injury bug were senior guard Jerrick Harding, who has been fighting to stay healthy, and junior guard Khameron Davis. Harding was available and started the game while Davis sat out.

The Bears started the game off scorching hot and jumped out to a 10-3 lead, but the Wildcats weathered the storm and found their groove as both teams stayed at each other’s neck throughout the remainder of the first half.

In the first half, something was beginning to develop, and that thing was Jerrick Harding. Harding was unable to find his shot early, but late into the half, he knocked down a three-pointer and held his wrist up a little longer than usual as he seemed relieved to have finally found his shot. Moments later, he knocked down another one to give him his 12th point of the night.

On the defensive end, junior Michal Kozak was providing a spark for the Wildcats as he swatted away four layup attempts in his 17 minutes of action in the opening half. Senior guard Cody John was doing his part after pulling in seven points on 3-4 shooting.

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Jerrick Harding fighting for another score on the board. Nikki Dorber / The Signpost

At the end of the first half, The ‘Cats and Bears were in a tight one as UNCO led 34-33.

The second half began with back to back baskets from John to bring his point total to 12 points and gifting the ‘Cats a lead. Freshman guard KJ Cunningham then found a rolling Kozak for an open dunk, and sophomore Israel Barnes knocked down a corner three on the next possession. The Bears weren’t letting the Wildcats build momentum because they matched baskets, and with 15 minutes left, the game was tied at 43 apiece.

With 12:47 remaining in the half, Kozak picked up his fifth block of the game, receiving an ovation when he checked out the game. Moments later, the Bears retook the lead as the scoreboard read 46-45.

The second half carried on, and with 4:30 left the Wildcats held a 57-54 lead. The ‘Cats leading scorers were Harding with 19, John with 12 and Kozak with 11. After a Bears bucket, Cunningham responded with an and-1 to push the lead to 60-56. UNCO responded with a three-ball to trim the lead to 60-59.

With one minute left, the Wildcats led 62-61 after Kozak and Northern Colorado exchanged baskets. With 22 seconds left ,the Bears took the lead, and Head Coach Randy Rahe called a timeout to try and set up a winning play.

Everyone in the arena knew who was taking the shot for Weber State, and he did not disappoint. Harding knocked down his 21st point to give the Wildcats a 64-63 lead with 10 seconds left, and the Dee went into a frenzy.

The ensuing possession was a heartbreaker for Weber State as Northern Colorado got the ball in the paint and rolled home a contested lay-up to give them the win and shatter the hearts of Wildcat coaches, players and fans.

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Israel Barnes grabs another 2 pointer. Nikki Dorber / The Signpost

“That one is really tough. I was proud of the guys, they played their hearts out and executed the game plan exactly how we wanted … we just came up one play short,” Rahe said.

The Wildcats record now falls to 5-10 and 1-3 in conference play, but there’s a reason to believe in them after facing off against two of the Big Sky’s top teams and losing by two points against Eastern Washington and then this one-point loss to the Bears.

The ‘Cats will be back in action on Saturday as they face off against the Sacramento State Hornets down in California. They won’t be back home until Jan. 23, when they play Montana State.

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