OGDEN — With conference tournament seeding at stake on Senior Night, Weber State ran out of gas.
In what was a battle for second place in the Big Sky, Weber State was undone by a poor shooting second half that resulted in a 68-62 loss to Idaho, which entered Saturday in third place in the conference. Now in a tie for the second slot, the loss is the Wildcats’ second straight, marking their first losing streak since the three-game iteration that manifested against Fresno State, Utah Valley and BYU earlier this season.
“I thought what the game really came down to: we missed shots. We missed open shots,” Weber State head coach Randy Rahe explained after the game. “(Idaho) is a good defensive team, but I felt like we had open shots that normally go in and they just didn’t go in tonight.”
Despite identical conference records (12-4), the Wildcats now sit virtually in third place as Idaho earned the tiebreaker and closes its regular season schedule against conference doormats Northern Arizona and Southern Utah ahead of the forthcoming conference tournament in March.
On Senior Night, elder statesmen Ryan Richardson and Dusty Baker — who was also celebrating his 25th birthday — were the primary and tertiary scorers for the Wildcats, finishing with 17 and 14 points while combining for nine threes. Baker also added eight assists. Jerrick Harding registered 15 points and three assists, while Brekkott Chapman notched an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double.
“It’s not the way we wanted to go out as seniors, but we have more important dreams than just this one game,” Baker said. “A lot of highs and lows in college basketball, but we put our heart and soul into this. … This is a year-round deal that we’ve fully invested in.”
With Saturday representing the final home games of their careers, Baker and Richardson — with their families in tow — were honored during a pregame coronation. Baker, who was playing in his 95th career game Saturday, started in place of Michal Kozak and, fittingly, opened the scoring with Richardson by teaming on a pair of early threes.
Harding continued the Wildcats’ early hot shooting by scoring a runner in traffic, nailing a triple in the right corner on an out-of-bounds play, and then nailing another while fading left on the wing to put WSU ahead 21-13 with 11:24 remaining in the first half.
Later, after forcing a steal, Ricky Nelson passed to a trailing Baker, who ran to the open space before rising and knocking down an open three from the right wing to give WSU a double-digit lead, 26-16, with 9:22 remaining in the opening frame. Along with his scoring exploits (11 first-half points), Baker’s well-reputed court-vision was apparent when he found Richardson alone in the left corner, from which he splashed an open three to extend Weber’s lead to five, 37-32, a score that would carry into halftime.
“They’re tough-minded kids,” Rahe said of his senior duo. “I thought they both played terrific tonight. … Really proud of their effort.”
The lead briefly rocked back and forth after Idaho’s Arkadiy Mkrtychyan finished a 3-point play to give the Vandals their first lead of the night, 51-50, with 11:37 left.
From there, the Wildcats' offense slowed as possessions dragged late into the shot clock and a number of rhythm shots rimmed out.
“They did a good job of keeping us from the perimeter,” Richardson said. “We got a couple of shots that we wanted and they just didn’t fall.”
Late in the second half, Chapman’s successful free throws ended a 5:22 scoring drought before his left-wing 3-pointer brought Weber State to within two, 62-60, with 53 seconds remaining.
That deficit would be as close as the Wildcats would approach, though, with that 3-pointer proving to be their last true field goal. Coming out of a timeout, Idaho’s Brayon Blake hit a running layup on the other end, before Nate Sherwood hit four consecutive free throws to kill Weber State’s last gasp.
“We were a couple of shots from winning the game,” Baker said. “They had their runs, we had our runs, and we just came up short in the end.”
With the final home game now in the books, WSU closes the regular season with road matchups at Montana and Montana State on Thursday and Saturday.
Dillon Anderson is studying literary journalism as a student at the University of Utah. You can follow him on Twitter @DillonDanderson.
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