Cheers of the Cougar’s faithful rang out through the rafters where the jersey numbers of Utah Jazz all-time greats hang in immortality in Vivint Smart home Arena. Two in-state rivals, the Weber State Wildcats and BYU Cougars battled on the Jazz insignia laden hardwood in a Christmas classic display of Utah college basketball.
The Wildcats scratched first blood with a hook-shot layup from Cody Carlson, followed by the Cougars first basket off a give and go dish from Alex Barcello to Kolby Lee for a quick layup.
A three ball from Zahir Porter put Weber State up 10-9 five minutes into the first half. The Wildcat guard play proved pivotal throughout the game.
The Wildcats went scratch for scratch with the Cougars in the first 10 minutes of the game, with Wildcat big man Carlson’s transition layup giving WSU a 16-15 lead.
But BYU pounced back with a 7-0 run sparked by a Brandon Averette steal that led to a Caleb Lohner layup in transition.
Following a charging foul on Carlson and two missed free throws from Michal Kozak for the Wildcats, the Cougars pulled away with a layup from Kolby Lee. Followed quickly by a floater from Averette on the Cougars next possession giving BYU a 23-16 lead with 7:30 left in the half.
The Wildcat’s trio of big men Cody Carlson, Michal Kozak and Dontay Bassett went to work in the paint.
Carlson and Kozak both finished with nine points.
Bassett had it going early on in his second game for WSU, and coming off an injury.
In back to back Wildcat possessions in the first five minutes of play he banked in a turn around layup and then buried a 3-pointer. The senior center out of Oakland looked Joel Embiid-esque with his No. 21 jersey and shooting precision.
He finished the game going 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, and shot an overall 56% from the field, and finished with 13 points and five boards.
“I felt one hundred percent out there, my conditioning felt good, the training and coaching staff did an excellent job with my rehabilitation process and getting me back on the court and making sure I was acclimated to the small movements necessary out there on the court,” Bassett said.
The 10-point Cougar lead was cut to seven after Brown splashed a crossover stepback three for WSU to cut the lead to seven, but a quick strike mid-range jumper from Alex Barcello had the Cougars heading into the Jazz locker room with a 42-32 lead at the break.
Despite the double digit deficit, the Wildcats had the slight advantage from beyond the arc.
Weber State had five made threes to BYU’s four in the first half, but the Cougars rebounding and points off turnovers had them in the driver’s seat.
The Wildcats weren’t ready to leave the Cougars den yet, the team clawed back in the second half in large part to the play of its guards.
Zahir Porter, Seikou Sisoho Jawara and Isiah Brown showed up and showed out. All three finished in double figures.
Porter and Sisoho Jawara led the Wildcats in scoring with 16 points each. Brown put up another 12 points in the Wildcat effort.
“They’re good players, older guys and they’ve been around a little bit, but they also have to get use to our system and it takes awhile, but they’re figuring it out and getting comfortable and seeing how they need to play, ” Wildcats Head Coach Randy Rahe said of his guards.
Porter drilled a deep three ball— almost all the way from Ogden— and cut the BYU lead to 55-48 early in the second half.
The comeback was on for the Wildcats, Sisoho Jawara went on a run of his own with his penetration in the lane landing him at the foul line where he went 6-for-7 on the night, and led to his team leading five assists.
After two made Sisoho Jawara free throws, WSU cut the lead to 64-59, the closest margin since early in the first half.
Despite the Wildcats clawing the lead down to 81-76 late, the Cougars scampered off with the victory in large part to five players scoring in double figures and as a team snagging six more rebounds on the game than WSU.
The play of BYU’s bench proved lethal, outscoring the Wildcats to the total of 32-13 on the game.
A pair of made free throws from Brandon Averette cemented the final score to 87-79 and a hard fought BYU victory.
BYU’s garnered votes in the AP and Coaches Polls and are one of the tougher opponents the Wildcats will face this season.
“We’re finding out who we are a bit more. We’re starting to figure out our identity and the strength of our team, but most importantly for our team is how hard do we play, how tough are we, how together are we, and we’re starting to get that part down. We’re on the right path” Coach Rahe said.
Back to back games against Idaho State were next up on the schedule for Coach Rahe and the Wildcats, but have been canceled due to COVID cases on the Bengals squad.
Despite COVID cancelations and much attention surrounding pre-game routines, the Wildcats are united as a team.
“Everyone has their own opinion, I feel like for us it’s about standing up for each other, if someone wants to kneel they can kneel, and if not we’re still brothers and we don’t think of them differently. For me, anyway I can shed light to a situation I believe in, I’m going to do that,” Bassett said.
The Wildcats next opponent will be Utah Valley on Jan. 2, in a non-conference matchup at the Dee.
The Wildcats resume conference play when the Eastern Washington Eagles swoop into Ogden for two games on Jan. 7 and 9.