Harding scores 27, 'Cats fall in conference opener to end three-game winning streak

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OGDEN — Weber State entered its conference opener with hopes of putting together a full 40-minute effort.

On Saturday, those hopes lasted less than 10 minutes of game time before a 14-point deficit that was the result of everything from poor shooting and rebounding to defensive effort and turnovers. Weber State ended up losing to Idaho State 62-60.

While the Wildcats overcame the early deficit in the second half, they could not overcome themselves in the end, as the mistakes that colored their early effort lingered throughout. The poor shooting was underscored by a season-low 19 percent from distance and the rebounding by double-digit differentials at various points of the game. Meanwhile, Weber State’s uneven defensive effort was highlighted by allowing 36 points in the paint and turnovers by off-target passing that led to 10 Idaho State steals as part of its 15-turnover effort.

In all, the game saw Weber State briefly overcome an early double-digit deficit and nearly another in the final 2:29 before the two-point loss to Idaho State before an announced crowd of 7,552 at the Dee Events Center Saturday.

What was a chance for a team to end 2017 on a high note registered as its first home and conference loss of the season and the conclusion to its three-game winning streak.

“Right now, as of tonight, we are not a very tough basketball team,” Weber State head coach Randy Rahe said. “We did not compete hard enough, we did not fight hard enough, we did not play with enough aggressiveness, energy or toughness to win that basketball game.

“If we don’t have the winning intanglibles—the toughness, the physicalness, the effort—we can’t be successful. … Tonight, they outplayed us in pretty much every area.”

Jerrick Harding led all scorers with 27 points in 39 minutes and added six rebounds.

But for most of the game, the Wildcats (7-6; 0-1) lacked the secondary playmaking they have come to rely on through the previous 12 contests. Starting center Zach Braxton provided 10 points, as did swingman Ryan Richardson, who made only one of his five attempts from three while committing three turnovers. Michal Kozak pitched in seven points and a team-high seven rebounds.

Brekkott Chapman returned after missing the previous four games, but he showed rust in his 16 minutes off the bench as the Roy native finished with a meager four points and three rebounds.

“He didn’t look comfortable,” Rahe said of Chapman’s first performance in over three weeks. “You could just see it in his face. … He’s not quite ready.”

Early on, Weber State struggled in nearly every area and provided the imagery to match it.

Collectively, open shots missed the mark badly, as did many routine passes to teammates. Individually, Harding had his shot blocked in transition before the ball ever left his hands, while Dusty Baker (zero points, two turnovers) threw a shot off the side of the backboard.

The comedy of errors resulted in a 19-5 deficit with 11:13 remaining in the first half before Harding went coast-to-coast off a rebound and finished at the basket to end the team’s five-minute, 28-second scoring drought. At that point, the Wildcats found themselves shooting just 23 percent (3-13) from the field and on the wrong end of a 13-3 rebounding differential.

The deficit was later cut to four, a margin that carried into halftime after Rahe turned to a small lineup featuring Ricky Nelson, Harding, Richardson, Chapman and Kozak (and later with Baker in place of Chapman) midway through the first half. During that stretch, Weber State outscored ISU 20-10 over the course of nine minutes and 12 seconds.

“I feel like we were just playing together, playing fast,” Harding said of the smaller lineups. “We were playing how we were supposed to be playing. We’ve just gotta figure out a way to keep that going.”

WSU parlayed its strong first-half finish into the second act, earning a pair of slim leads that lasted all of 27 seconds before falling behind for the remainder of the game, cresting at a 62-52 deficit with 2:29 remaining.

There, the Wildcats put together an impressive last gasp that coincided with ISU's scoreless finish over that span. As a result, Weber State was afforded two opportunities to tie or take the lead after an 8-0 run pulled it to 62-60 with 18 seconds left.

The former came when Harding drove the lane and had the ball poked away by Idaho State’s Geno Luzcando, whose contact with Harding earned a chorus of boos from the crowd due to the no-call from the officials.

“I guess he fell down, that’s what the official said,” Rahe said of the play.

The latter came on the ensuing play—a missed shot on the front end of a one-and-one—as a defensive rebound with four seconds left led to Richardson’s half-court Hail Mary that nearly banked in for the would-be game-winner.

In digesting their first loss in three weeks, a disappointed roster was at a loss for words when asked to hazard a reason for the poor outing.

“We weren’t ready tonight,” Braxton said. “We practiced hard all week, the coaches gave us the right game plan for Idaho State and we didn’t do what we were supposed to do.” 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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