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OGDEN - Damian Lillard scored a career-high 28 points to lead Weber State (2-4) to a surprise 83-76 win over Utah (3-4) on Wednesday night.
"Everybody thought that they were big and that they were going to bully us and we didn't let them bully us," said Lillard, who also registered seven assists and five rebounds. "Everybody expected us to lose and we just came out and fought them."
The Utes had an obvious height advantage, evident by David Foster's 10 blocks, a Utah school record, but the Wildcats were able to play around it and actually outscore the Utes in the paint, 38-32.
"It's hard work. It's not the size, it's the effort and the heart that you got," said Weber State Head Coach Randy Rahe. "Our kids got a lot of heart."
The Utes opened the game on a 9-0 run thanks to a 3-pointer from Kim Tillie, who led Utah with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and then two more 3s from Marshall Henderson. A three-point play by Carlon Brown built Utah's lead to 28-14 with 7:32 left in the first half.
Brown finished the night with 16 points.
The Wildcats were able to chip away at the 14-point lead using a motivational timeout by Rahe and a 10-2 run in the final two minutes of the first half to get within three, 41-38, before halftime.
"You can either compete and get back in it and get tougher or just let them run you out of the gym," Rahe barked at his players during that pivotal timeout.
The run ended on a Darin Mahoney buzzer-beating three-pointer, that Rahe felt changed the outlook heading into the locker room at halftime.
"That was huge," opined Rahe. "He makes that and our kids are excited and confident."
The Wildcats took their first lead of the game, 53-51, on a finger roll by Lillard with 13:35 left to play.
"I think everyone bought into what Coach Rahe was telling us that we had to believe and we just had to play ball and free our mind and play," said center Steve Panos who chipped in with 20 points and seven rebounds.
The Wildcats also didn't turn the ball once in the second half, finishing the game with just five.
"Probably the key of the whole game," said Rahe. "To not turn it over against this team in the second half was really important."
Lillard hit a jumper with 2:44 left in the game to give the Wildcats a 71-69 lead. On the next trip down the court, Lillard made his only 3-pointer to finish a 9-0 run.
Weber State hung on for the win by making free throws down the stretch, hitting 15 of 17 in the second half, seven in the final minute of the game.
"You knew it was going to come down to the stretch, there was no other option, this was a hard fought game," said Rahe. "Our kids played confident down the stretch and pulled it out."
Rahe and his players professed the importance of this win as the Wildcats enter Big Sky play this weekend.
"It's real big. Winning a game that no one expected you to win is real big," said Lillard.
"They earned this one. We play everybody tough, we keep fighting, it was bound to turn around," said Rahe.
The Wildcats will be on the road as they open Big Sky play against Sacramento State on Saturday.
Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.