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OGDEN — As Connor Toolson’s layup sunk into the basket, giving his Utah Valley Wolverines a 60-42 lead over their hosts, memories of a contest gone awry washed over Weber State and a familiar feeling set in.
When these two met last year, the Wolverines handed Weber State its worst loss of the season, a 27-point beatdown in Orem. But playing in Ogden this time, with an announced 7,021 fans at their backs, the Wildcats hoped to settle an old score, to exact revenge over their in-state rival.
But ultimately — despite a late surge that pulled Weber State within 10 points —Saturday’s game played out much the same as the last one.
Jake Toolson scored 19 points, Weber shot 37-percent from the floor, and the Wildcats fell to the Wolverines 75-63 at the Dee Events Center. Weber, losers of three straight, will have to wait another year for their revenge bid.
“We’ve hit some adversity right now,” Weber coach Randy Rahe said. “It seems like every year our team does this. … This has been a hard two weeks — we’re playing really good teams.”
This was a game that Weber State, off to a disappointing 5-5 start with recent losses to Fresno State and Utah State, desperately felt it needed to win. But Toolson and Co. refused to let UVU (8-4) lose, as they led for 36:51 and finished with 46 points-in-the-paint to Weber’s 28.
“I think it was 100-percent our effort on the defensive end,” forward Brekkott Chapman (20 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks,) said, flatly, when asked about his team’s performance. “We gave up easy buckets in the first half, and when you do that your energy goes down on the offensive end — you don’t run your plays as fast and you don’t get the same shot quality.”
To Chapman's point, one of the Wildcats’ recent problems has been shot quality, and it again reared its ugly head on Saturday. Early on, the Wolverines packed the paint and forced Weber into long, leaning jumpers. Then they forced the ball out of Jerrick Harding’s (3-14, 10 points) hands, but denied entry passes to Zach Braxton (seven points, eight rebounds) and Michal Kozak (12 minutes), keeping the ball on the perimeter. And for the game, Weber State’s first-shot offense struggled mightily, and accordingly saw their best offense come via 16 second-chance points and 15 free-throws.
“Right now, we’re struggling offensively,” Rahe conceded. “Teams have done some things defensively and we’ve got to continue to make some adjustments. … The way teams are defending us right now, we’re having a hard time getting the ball into the paint, which is one of our strengths. It was tough, because they just packed it in. If you don’t make those outside shots, they just keep packing it tighter and tighter and tighter.”
Although Cody John scored 15 points, it was Jake Toolson and Baylee Steele who outshined everyone, the latter who finished with 14 points in 25 minutes. Elsewhere, Connor Toolson, Ben Nakwaaasah and Isaiah White pitched in nine apiece.
For most of the game, the Wolverines were in control. They led at halftime, 41-23, with Jake Toolson and Steele an efficient 7-of-10 from the field for 15 points at the intermission. Additionally, seven UVU players had at least four points in the first 20 minutes.
The lead decayed to 10 late in the second half, but after expending all their energy to reach that point, Weber State failed to shave the deficit to single-digits; in the final 3:05, UVU converted three of its final four field goal attempts, while Weber converted two of its final six.
“We had a couple of looks — they just didn’t go in,” Rahe said. “To complete that comeback, you have to have shots go in, and they just didn’t go in. Especially when we needed them there.”
Dillon Anderson is studying literary journalism as a student at the University of Utah. You can follow him on Twitter @dillondanderson.