During the opening week of college basketball season, the Weber State Wildcats were supposed to play on Nov. 25 against the Adams State Wolverines and against the Dixie State Trailblazers in St. George on Nov. 28. However, due to a potential outbreak within the program, only one of those games were played.
In the Wildcats’ lone game of the week, they beat the ASU Grizzlies 88–60 inside the slightly-more-than-empty Dee Events Center. The game was tight in the beginning, but, eventually, through scoring spurts and defensive stops, WSU was able to pull away and secure a comfortable win.
While the game was a bit closer than preferred, head coach Randy Rahe wasn’t surprised by his team’s early struggle.
“It was kind of what I expected. In the first half we played frantic, we’ve been beating on each other since July 1 and guys are really excited to play,” Rahe said.
He thought the team came out and tried too hard, so at halftime he told the team to approach the second half normally after taking a deep breath.
The first half was different for a number of reasons for the Wildcats. Not only was it the opening game of the season, where you have to knock the rust off, but WSU was also playing in a nearly-empty gym with a team that only was returning five players from the previous season.
Newcomer Isiah Brown, a senior point guard who transferred from Grand Canyon, felt the difference in environment early but wasn’t bothered by it too much.
“You don’t really know what it’s gonna look like or feel like until you get out there, but it was weird,” Brown said. “In the first couple minutes, it was something to get used to, but once we really started playing, it’s just basketball,” said Brown.
Of those five returning players for the Wildcats, only senior forward Michal Kozak was in the starting lineup. Alongside him were four players making their Wildcat debuts.
Starting at the forward position next to Kozak was fellow senior Cody Carlson. Accompanying them at the guard position was senior Brown, sophomore Seikou Sisoho Jawara and junior Zahir Porter.
From the moment the game tipped off, Brown had his fingerprints all over WSU’s scoring contributions. He opened the half up with 18 points in his first game at the Dee.
Despite his first-half scoring, the Wildcats found themselves in a battle, mostly due to their unfamiliarity with one another, which Rahe compared to the “relationship phase” of dating.
“We’re not married yet. Pretty soon we have to come up with an engagement ring. But in the meantime, I thought we could have pulled away, but sometimes when you have too many new guys and they make a run, you can splinter.” Rahe said.
After the team made pushes, though, Rahe said they would regroup in the huddle and stick together back on the court.
In the second half, the scoring dramatically improved for both teams. WSU poured in 52 points while ASU pitched in 40 of their own.
The Wildcats leading scorers were Brown, who had 26 points, Carlson, who had 13 (including a put-back jam on the opening play of the game) and Kozak, who finished with 8.
All eleven players who saw action got in the scoring column, including sophomore forward Donatas Kupsas, who played in his first game since tearing his ACL in the second game of last season against San Diego.
While winning the opening game of the season is always a big boost, WSU lost their junior forward Tavian Percy for the season after he broke his foot during the game.
“I’m sick to my stomach. This kid has come in here… been working really hard and getting better. I want to throw up.” said Coach Rahe, “He’s going to be out for the season. We’ll rally around him and help him through this.”
Weber State’s next two games are scheduled to be against The Westminster Griffins on December 8 and the Utah State Aggies on December 12, both at the Dee Event Center. However with COVID-19 cancellations surrounding college athletics, don’t be surprised if another game pops up or is removed on the schedule.