Wildcats secure 3rd place in Big Sky with 67-53 win over Idaho

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OGDEN — On a night where emotions ran high due to it being senior night and the final home game of the season, Weber State came out of the gate slowly before finding its rhythm in the second half to closeout a 67-53 win over Idaho.

Following a tough home loss to first-place Eastern Washington a few days ago, Weber State looked to lock down its position in the conference standings before the upcoming Big Sky Tournament. A win over Idaho guaranteed the Wildcats a No. 3 seed in the conference and a favorable position in the bracket.

Idaho came into the game in last place in the Big Sky Conference, but the way the first half went for both teams it looked like two teams much closer together in the standings. Weber State jumped out to an early lead, thanks to some big 3-pointers from guard Steven Verplancken and forward Dyson Koehler, and some back-to-the-basket work by centers Alex Tew and Handje Tamba.

Tew, who has progressed on the offensive side of the ball throughout the year and has steadily improved his rebounding, had the highlight of the half when he and forward Dillon Jones executed a practically perfect pick-and-roll, which culminated in a thunderous dunk to put the Wildcats up 16-13 midway through the first half.

The Wildcats executed their offensive game plan to perfection most of the first half but only led going into the locker room 28-24. The main reason for it was players failing to hit their open shots. Weber State only shot 35% from the field in the opening frame and could have led by much more due to Idaho shooting just 32% from the field.

"Energy. That's one thing we were lacking in the first half," said the senior Porter, who finished the game with 2 points and three rebounds. "We played to their level. We didn't play the way we're supposed to. We didn't come out with the fire."

While Weber State struggled to knock down open looks, normally offensive-minded Idaho had to deal with the Wildcats' stingy defense. Head coach Eric Duft and his staff had their team prepared to lock down the Vandals; and aside from a few slip-ups, the home team delivered.

"At halftime, there wasn't a lot to tell our guys other than we just have to continue to do what we're doing, because we didn't make many mistakes," Duft said.

Many of Weber State's games this season have been determined by the Wildcats' second-half performances, for better or worse, and that was the case against the Vandals, too. Weber State started the second half on a 13-2 run to extend the lead and make any thoughts of an Idaho comeback near impossible.

Shooting woes plagued the team in the first half, but for whatever reason, the Wildcats found the ability to knock down shots in the second half. As a team, Weber State shot 52% from the field and 50% from 3-point range in the final 20 minutes.

Eight different Wildcats recorded points in this game, led by Jones, who finished with his 18th double-double of the season with 21 points and 14 rebounds. The next highest on the team was Verplancken with 14 points, which included 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range.

The Weber State defense stayed strong in the second half, and only one Idaho player finished in double figures. Forward Isaac Jones had 17 points for the Vandals, but guard Divant'e Moffitt — who scored 13 points in the previous matchup with the Wildcats and averaged 18.3 points per game — was limited to just 6 points on 1-of-9 shooting Saturday night.

"We didn't feel like we guarded very well against Eastern Washington," Duft said. "And I told our guys we got to get back to having some edge to us on that end of the court and we did tonight."

As Weber State wrapped up all its home games, the team will travel once more to take on Northern Arizona in the regular season finale. And while the Wildcats have locked in their spot in the conference tournament, Duft and his team are still focused on getting a win on Monday and finishing the regular season on a high note.


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Thomas Gordon


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