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Wildcats looking for renewed health, continuity in extended homestand

Wildcats looking for renewed health, continuity in extended homestand

(KSL TV)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — For Weber State, there’s no place like home for the holidays.

Heading into last Saturday having played on the road or at a neutral site in six of the previous eight games, the Wildcats’ initial road-heavy schedule has given way to a historic six-game homestand — the program’s longest in 35 years — that began with Saturday’s 96-74 win over Arkansas Pine-Bluff at the Dee Events Center.

Preluded by in-state games against Utah Valley University in Orem and Brigham Young University at the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, the extended homecoming produced a scheduling oddity that ensures that Weber State won’t play outside the borders of Utah for the month of December. Accordingly, WSU will play the home series’ remaining five games over the next 23 days. The featured matchups include the team’s penultimate and final nonconference games (Pepperdine and Presentation College), as well as a trio of early forays into Big Sky play (Idaho State, Northern Arizona and Southern Utah).

Heading into the season with expected growing pains following the losses of two of the team’s three leading scorers, Weber State has played mostly as advertised through 10 nonconference games. Most recently, the team had been riding a three-game losing streak prior to returning home for the first time in three weeks on Saturday.

As it is, the Wildcats (5-5), who have won just once in their six games away from home this season, will now hold court for a home stretch that the team hopes will engender added cohesion and confidence, as well as provide an opportunity to pocket a few wins, before heading back out on the road in mid-January.

“It’s good to be home, it really is,” Weber State head coach Randy Rahe said of playing in Ogden following Saturday’s game. “We’re kind of used to (being away from home), we do it every preseason. But there comes a point in time where you’ve got to get home, and you’ve got to get your confidence up and get a little swagger going and start to get some momentum. We’ve had a little trouble with getting some good continuity and rhythm.”

In addition to the quality of opponents appearing on its early schedule, Weber State has been victimized by a nagging injury bug that’s kept the group one bullet short of a full clip in multiple games.

Injuries played an early role in diminishing the team’s depth entering the season, specifically with Cody John’s season-ending back injury, which for a time was compounded with varying ailments from Jordan Dallas and Riley Court. Their eventual returns provided the Wildcats a short-lived rapture before a stroke of bad luck landed with Zach Braxton (Achilles strain) and Brekkott Chapman (foot sprain) in separate moments of the team’s 27-point loss at Utah Valley University earlier this month.

At times, the crucible of injuries in this still-young season has forced Rahe’s hand with lineup and rotation decisions. Against BYU, for example, Rahe deployed what was effectively a seven-man rotation that featured three freshmen to compensate for the absences of his frontcourt partners in Braxton and Chapman.

That game represented the extent of Braxton’s absence, though, as the junior center returned to his starting role against UAPB on Saturday, pouring in 14 points and collecting a team-high seven rebounds to go along with two assists and a lone block and steal in an ultra-limited 19 minutes of action.

On the defensive end, Braxton’s teammates said that his presence offers a hidden benefit for WSU’s perimeter defenders.

“(Braxton) helps us on defense because we know someone’s back there if we get beat,” Ryan Richardson said of the 6-foot-10 center’s rim-protection. “He’s going to beat it up, so we can get out there and pressure the ball a little bit more. Zach is a major key, a major part of our team.”

With Chapman still sidelined, Weber State is, at once, missing its most versatile defender, as the junior can switch across positions from 2 to 4, and its most lethal sharpshooter, as the Roy native is shooting a team-high 52.9 percent from three on more than four attempts per game.

But with Chapman eyeing a return for the conference opener on Dec. 30 against Idaho State, it stands to reason that Weber State may have its full complement of players before too long.

For the Wildcats, the remaining five-game homestand is nothing if not a chance to regroup in full.

“Might take (Chapman) a couple of games to get back to where he used to be, but once he gets there, I think we’ll be a very scary team to play against,” Richardson said of the forward’s eventual return.

Added Rahe: “I’ll be excited to see when we get everybody back and get everybody staying together for a while.”

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