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OGDEN — It was just a Division II team from the state of Washington, but it was a Division II team that came into Saturday night's game 8-1 on the season riding a three-game winning streak and having scored over 100 points in their most recent victory.
It didn't matter for Weber State (3-7) as the team got off to its best start of the season in an eventual 82-58 rout of Saint Martin's (8-2) at home.
Unlike almost every game this season, the Wildcats got the lead early and never let it go. After winning the tipoff, Weber State got on the board quickly with a 3-pointer from Steven Verplancken off an inside-out assist from big man Alex Tew. The Saints tied it up with a 3-pointer of their own before the Wildcats took the lead for good on a dunk by Dyson Koehler off an assist from Dillon Jones.
The offense found the quick start it had lacked in every previous game, something the Wildcats knew they were capable of but hadn't figured out how to make happen yet this season.
"Coaches have been on us for that," Weber State guard Junior Ballard said. "To kind of move faster, be more energetic, too; that's something that's gotten way better since the start of the season. And guys are happy for one another; I think it shows, and our job is to carry that over."
The Wildcats started out hot from the field and built up a 22-8 advantage over the visiting Saints in the first eight minutes of the game. Verplancken made his first four 3-point attempts and finished the game with a career-high 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting and 5-of-7 from 3-point range.
During those opening minutes, Jones and Ballard each made a shot from deep, as well, which put Weber State at 6-of-8 from behind the arc.
The eventual goal will be for head coach Eric Duft's team to play like the opening eight minutes of Saturday's game for an entire game. After the hot start, the home team cooled off on offense, which allowed a solid-shooting team like Saint Martin's to work its way back into the game.
The Saints came into the contest shooting 35% from deep on the season, and 3-pointers accounted for nearly 50% of all their field goals. Using their height, the Saints managed to pull the game to within 10 points before the Wildcats ended a 1-for-10 field goal slide with a couple of big 3s from Zahir Porter and Ballard to go into halftime leading 40-26.
In the first half, Weber State shot an incredible 52.9% from 3-point range and just 42.9% from the field. The offensive-minded Saint Martin's was held to just 29.6% shooting from the field and 37.5% from deep.
"I thought our guys came out, we got off to a good start, which I thought was really important," Duft said following the win. "Moved the ball, Steven (Verplancken) was the recipient of some good passing and knocked down some shots and kind of got us on the right foot. And then from there we played pretty solid most of the night."
While the second half didn't get off to the same hot start for the Wildcats, the team managed to put together an equally solid second half of basketball.
Weber State ran a cleaner offense that relied more on sharing the ball rather than one-on-one attacks, which the Wildcats have been prone to fall into in the past. The team finished with 16 assists on 28 made field goals, and only two of the 11 players that saw the floor didn't record any points.
While Verplancken led the team in scoring, two other Wildcats finished in double figures: Ballard had 15 points and Jones added 13 points. Weber State finished the game shooting 50.9% from the field and an even 50% from behind the 3-point line.
Duft's team finished with over 80 points for just the second time this season, with both performances coming at home against Division II opponents. But the goal is to let a dominant win like Saturday translate into future games, especially as nonconference play nears an end and teams get set for tough conference schedules.
For a team of young players and new transfers, Weber State will need to build on the performance against a lesser opponent and prepare for bigger games ahead.
"I think we — the winning will boost morale, but we're still far from where we want to be," Verplancken said. "We work every day. We know we can be a top Big Sky team."