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OGDEN — Weber State opened up its scoring in Saturday night's matchup with in-state foe Utah Tech with a thunderous dunk from center Alex Tew off an assist from forward Dillon Jones.
A couple plays later, Jones made a skillful layup for the Wildcats to go up 4-2. The Trailblazers tied it with a layup of their own and took the lead on a 3-pointer from forward Jacob Nicolds. And the Wildcats never led again.
In Weber State's first home game in almost a month, the Wildcats' size, or lack thereof, was on display as Utah Tech rolled to a 77-65 win.
Utah Tech was led by its big man in the middle, Tanner Christensen, a 6-foot-10 sophomore who made his living in the paint against Weber State's undersized defenders. Christensen led all scorers with 20 points and eight rebounds.
The Wildcats countered with their own big in 6-foot-11 Tew, who held his own for as long as he could.
But the Trailblazers employed a tricky offense that often led to mismatches for their center down low. Screens and ball maneuvers meant guards like 6-foot Keith Dinwiddie or 6-foot-2 KJ Cunningham left to take a shot at the big.
When Tew wasn't in the ball game, head coach Eric Duft tried to go smaller and quicker with 6-foot-9 forward Daniel Rouzan to slow down Christensen. It didn't help. Utah Tech's guards provided quality shots from outside, which forced the Wildcats to worry about every man on the floor rather than zeroing in on the team's key players.
The Wildcats' defense, which has struggled all year and has allowed for high shooting percentages, remained an issue for the team on Saturday. It's something Duft hopes to improve over the season, especially around the time that conference play starts.
"I think we've just gotta get the right guys on the floor that want to buy into that," Duft said. "I think we've got to probably play a little bit bigger at times. We're still kind of figuring things out, but a lot of it comes down to individual defenders; and we're probably going to need to go with the guys that are going to take the most pride in that end of the floor."
For the game, Utah Tech shot 52% from the floor but only 31.6% from 3-point range. The bigger issue was that while the Wildcats didn't shoot poorly from the field at 50%, they shot 28.6% from 3-point range. And for a team that relies heavily on guard play and outside shooting, it didn't cut it.
Steven Verplancken led all Wildcats in scoring with 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting, which included three made shots from deep. The only other Weber State player to make a 3-pointer was Dyson Koehler, who made the only shot he took.
Jones continued to stuff the stat sheet and finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, but he was tied for the team with four turnovers.
"(Utah Tech's) pressure in the beginning took us out of it, and they were switching a lot of defenses, like they were going zone to man to zone to man," Verplancken said. "It's tough to catch a rhythm, but I think when we face those high pressure teams like today, if we can get to three sides, they break down and they can't guard us eventually. So that's the point we've got to get to."
The Trailblazers opened up a quick lead to start the game on 3-pointers by Nicolds and Gonsalves; and after just five minutes, Weber State already trailed 14-4.
The Wildcats' offense moved the ball around well but had difficulties converting open looks. The home team managed to keep itself in the game by getting several one-on-one buckets from its guards. But when the teams went into the locker room at halftime, Utah Tech held a 40-28 lead.
Coming out of the break, the Trailblazers didn't slow down and their shooting nearly mirrored the first half. But the Wildcats did their best to put pressure on the visitors, which resulted in a few more takeaways and easier buckets.
"Defensively, we picked up full court more," Duft said. "And we haven't done that a lot this year; that really isn't necessarily our style. But I thought we really had to make some type of drastic change, and that got our guys a little more enthused, a little more energized.
"We're going to keep massaging it, keep figuring out the lineups that suit us best and play how we want them to play," Duft added. "Because we're going to build this thing the right way ... and if we have to take some lumps earlier then so be it. We'll continue to get better, we'll continue to figure if we can get the right guys to buy in."