Weber State does just enough down the stretch in win over Idaho

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OGDEN — What once was a 21-point lead dwindled down to as low as six before Weber State did what it needed to do and held on for a 73-65 win over the University of Idaho.

The Wildcats (11-10, 6-2 Big Sky) never trailed against the Vandals (8-14, 2-7 Big Sky) and looked to be on their way to an easy blowout win after about 30 minutes of game play. But in the final 10 minutes of the game, Idaho went on a 21-6 run to make things a little more interesting before Weber State's free throw shooting put the game away.

The first half started out quickly for Weber State as the team made their first three buckets to jump out to a quick 7-0 lead. Head coach Eric Duft's team has had mixed results this season coming out of the gate in games, so a fast start was a welcome one for his team.

While the visiting team's offense looked strong to start the game, it was the team's defense that made it clear the Wildcats were there to play. Idaho boasts two of the top three scorers in the Big Sky Conference in forward Isaac Jones and guard Divant'e Moffitt, who average 19.1 points and 18.6 points, respectively.

Jones started out with 7 points early in the game but finished with just 12 points by the end. Moffitt struggled to get anything in the first half, and most of his scoring came in the second half during Idaho's run near the end of the game. The star guard finished with 13 points.

Defensive rotations were sharp in the first half and the Wildcats often double-teamed the Vandals' top scorers. While it did lead to a few more foul calls than usual, Weber State made it difficult for Idaho to get anything going rhythm-wise in the first half.

Wildcats defenders played with active hands and recorded seven steals and forced a lot of poor, rushed shots from the home team's players. Weber State's Dyson Koehler tied for the team lead with two steals and was a pest on the defensive end of the ball all game.

The Wildcats have struggled at times this season on offense, but in the first half just about everybody found a way to get on the board — starters and bench players alike. With about four minutes left to play in the first half, guard Steven Verplancken drove into the lane, stopped and faded away for one of his signature 2-point buckets and had the Wildcats doubled up on the Vandals 32-16.

Backup center Handje Tamba — not typically known for scoring — got his only points of the night with a thunderous dunk off an assist from guard Junior Ballard. With just a few minutes left in the first half, everything clicked for Weber State and the team led 38-22 at the break.

Both teams came out of the break with strong efforts, but the Wildcats built on their lead with a steady offense and a continued quality defense.

Idaho traditionally takes a lot of 3-pointers, but with the large deficit the Vandals began chucking them up on seemingly every play. After the first few minutes of the half, the Vandals were 2-of-13 from the 3-point line, and it looked like the Wildcats were going to run away with the game.

Duft's team played with more energy and effort all around on the night. On one possession, Ballard stole the ball and broke downcourt before passing to Verplancken, who shot a 3-pointer from the left corner. He missed, but center Alex Tew pulled down the offensive rebound and threw a pass to Jones, who then made a quick pass to guard KJ Cunningham in the right corner for a made 3-pointer.

At that point, Weber State led 53-32 — the biggest lead of the game — but the Vandals weren't going down without a fight.

Idaho's guard Trey Smith, who hadn't done much the whole game up until that point, suddenly couldn't miss from behind the arc. Whether or not a defender was in his face, Smith made four 3-pointers in a row to slash the Wildcats' lead and fire up his team. Smith finished as his team's leading scorer with 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting from deep.

Weber State had gone cold and things looked like it might take a turn for the worse for the visitors, but the reigning player of the week in Jones was able to calm things down. Jones finished with a team-high 21 points, which included shooting 12-of-15 from the free-throw line.

After a closer-than-expected win over the Vandals, the third-place Wildcats will continue the road trip by taking on undefeated Eastern Washington on Saturday afternoon.


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Thomas Gordon


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