OGDEN — The Weber State Wildcats insist that their goals have remained the same and they won't fold since star guard Damian Lillard was lost for the season to a broken foot. They made believers out of 10,453 fans at the Dee Events Center — and the No. 23-ranked BYU Cougars — on Tuesday night.
Weber State played BYU tough in a 72-66 loss. The outcome was closer than most people probably expected, especially with Lillard in street clothes, and it was due to the Wildcats continuing to fight after falling behind by 16 points in the first half.
"I'm going to sleep good tonight," said Weber State coach Randy Rahe. "I tell these guys all the time there's going to be times where we play our tails off and do everything right and not win. If we do that, I'll sleep like a baby. Sometimes you just get beat. We just got beat tonight."
Weber State was just a few plays away from making BYU the team that just got beat on Tuesday night.
The Wildcats got within striking distance of the Cougars a handful of times in the second half, but could never get over the hump. Weber State was in position to pull off what would have been a remarkable upset after Scott Bamforth sank a 3-pointer to make it 64-60 with 3:16 left in the game. It was the closest the Wildcats got to BYU since it was 13-9 early in the game.
Bamforth had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but had a shot blocked by BYU's Noah Hartsock on Weber State's next possession. Jimmer Fredette then converted a three-point play on the other end to make it 67-60.
An earlier sequence may have been more harmful to the Wildcats' upset bid. Kyle Bullinger, who had his first career double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds, drilled a 3-pointer to make it 58-53. But Weber State failed to score on its next two possessions and couldn't get closer for a few minutes.
Still, the Wildcats earned a moral victory by staying in the game and putting a scare into their in-state rivals.
"We played hard," said Darin Mahoney, who had five points, seven rebounds and a career-high five blocked shots. "We kept fighting. We got down in the first half, and we could have given up. This showed something about our toughness, and our togetherness as a team. We came back in the second half and had a shot coming down the stretch."
"We wanted to prove that we could still play," said guard Lindsey Hughey, who had 15 points and six rebounds. "Nothing changed. We still run the same offense, the same defense. That was our motivation right there (to prove the Wildcats could still play)."
Bamforth had a team-high 17 points and five 3-pointers for Weber State while replacing Lillard in the Wildcats' starting lineup. There is no replacing a player like Lillard, the team's leading scorer and reigning Big Sky Player of the Year. But the Wildcats will attempt to do so by playing together, playing defense, rebounding and having everyone do a little extra.
They did that in a narrow loss to the Cougars.
"It's a team," Rahe said. "Damian is a big part of it. Everyone knows that it's a huge loss, but one guy doesn't make or break a team. Now we know everybody has got to do a little more, do it a little more together. These guys can play. We've got some good players, good competitors, tough players. Our expectations and goals aren't going to change. We just have to do it a different way."