Huge early deficit proves too much for Wildcats to overcome in loss to UC Riverside

Weber State players huddle together after a foul in a game against Western Colorado on Nov. 10, 2022.

Weber State players huddle together after a foul in a game against Western Colorado on Nov. 10, 2022. (Robert Casey, Weber State Athletics)

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OGDEN — The final score of Monday night's game between Weber State and UC Riverside indicates a much closer game than it really was as the Highlanders took care of the Wildcats 72-65.

The second game of the first day of the Vegas 4 Tournament started out fast when both teams hit some big shots early. But despite getting off to a better and quicker start than they have in any game so far in the young season, the Wildcats (1-3) couldn't overcome the even hotter start by the Highlanders (3-2).

Weber State never led in the game; UC Riverside got on the board first on a 3-pointer by center Lachlan Olbrich. The Wildcats quickly tied up the game thanks to a made 3-pointer from Junior Ballard, but the Highlanders gained a lead and didn't give it up the rest of the game.

UC Riverside seemingly couldn't miss a shot in the first half and shot 62.5% from the field, 53.3% from 3-point range and 100% from the free-throw line. Weber State's defense did a good job of closing on defenders and contesting shots, but it didn't matter much for the Highlanders. As the half progressed, the Wildcats' defense struggled and led to easier open shots for UC Riverside.

By the end of the first half, UC Riverside led Weber State 50-31, with a game-high lead of 20 points.

The Wildcats didn't necessarily shoot poorly in the first period — they ended the half shooting 45% from the field and 57.1% from 3-point range, but only 56.3% from the free-throw line. What really hurt Weber State, though, was its inability to rebound the ball. UC Riverside outrebounded Weber State 17-11 in the first half, with many of those coming as offensive rebounds allowing extra possessions.

One of the bright spots of the first half — and the game, in general — was the emergence of sophomore center Alex Tew, who led all Weber State scorers with 15 points on an efficient 7-of-8 shooting. The only other Wildcats player to make it into double figures was guard Zahir Porter, who had 11 points off the bench.

Tew provided a post presence the Wildcats have lacked thus far in the season. Between he and the Tennessee transfer Handje Tamba, Weber State hadn't gotten much production from the center position until Monday's contest.

While it seemed like UC Riverside's scalding first half would cool off eventually — and it did in the second half — Weber State lacked the offensive prowess to take advantage and get back into the game. The Highlanders finally went through some scoring droughts and the Wildcats outscored the visitors 34-22 in the second half. But the halftime deficit was too much to overcome and the home team never got into enough of a groove offensively to overcome it.

Outside of Porter, Weber State's guards, who the Wildcats rely on for a lot of its offense, struggled in the game. The starting guard line of Keith Dinwiddie, Steven Verplancken and Junior Ballard combined for 21 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Meanwhile, Dillon Jones, the Big Sky Player of the Week last week, failed to make a single shot and finished with 4 points from the free-throw line and 0-of-5 shooting.

The Wildcats are guaranteed two more games and will look to bounce back against Abilene Christian (2-2) on Tuesday.

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