OGDEN — Weber State won't be making any major schematic changes when it plays Eastern Washington in an unexpected rematch in the first round of the Big Sky Conference Tournament tonight.
The Wildcats only have one important adjustment to make, and it has everything to do with their heads.
"It's very simple — you get your mindset back," coach Randy Rahe said when asked how his team will regroup after it was blasted by the Eagles 75-59 on Wednesday night. The loss cost Weber State a first-round bye in the tournament, and forced it to play against the Eagles again tonight.
"You get back to being the aggressive team and that's been our formula for success," Rahe continued. "You've got to be the aggressors; you've got to be the more physical team, the more tough team, the more together team."
Weber State's formula led it to a surprisingly successful season after star guard Damian Lillard was lost for the year with a Jones fracture in his right foot. The Wildcats lost Lillard before the start of conference play, yet still won 11 games and nearly earned a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
"If you would have told me two months ago that we would have had 11 wins with what happened, I would have thought you were crazy," Rahe said. "We wanted one more. Didn't happen. All we can do is regroup."
It obviously wouldn't be the first time the Wildcats have had to regroup after they lost their best player and last season's Big Sky MVP to an injury.
"This team has really overachieved for what we've been through," Rahe said. "These kids have always responded. They've always fought back, they've always figured out a way to get that mind right and they'll do it again. Now, is that going to be good enough (tonight)? I hope so. I don't know. We'll have to find out."
The Wildcats will certainly be better prepared for Eastern Washington's aggressive and physical style than they were on Wednesday. The Eagles played with more energy, and although they had already secured a spot in the conference tournament, they acted like they had more on the line than Weber State.
"If we play like this again, we won't have a chance," said Weber State forward Kyle Bullinger. "We've got to improve defensively, offensively, rebounding. We got to bring our edge mentally. They were ready to play, and we weren't ready to play. They were hungry. We were lackadaisical. We were not aggressive at all."
Eastern Washington is only 10-19 overall, but it is a much different team at this stage of the season than it was early. Eagles point guard Glen Dean had an injury similar to Lillard's during the team's second practice of the season, but didn't break his foot all the way through. He missed two months of the season.
Dean's backup, Cliff Colimon, suffered a high ankle sprain and sat out a month. Eastern Washington coach Kirk Earlywine, a former Weber State assistant, said the Eagles had to reinvent themselves once they got their full roster of players healthy.
"You try to play this game without a point guard, and especially if your point guard is your best player (Dean), it's really hard," Earlywine said. "When those guys came back, we changed the set plays we were running. Since the middle of January, we got a little better each week. As you get better, you get a little more confident."
Despite a 16-point loss to the hard-charging Eagles on their home court earlier in the week, the Wildcats are confident they can advance in the conference tourney tonight.
"I've still got unbelievable faith in these guys," Rahe said.
Weber State will play Montana in the conference semifinals in Greeley, Colo., if it wins tonight. Eastern Washington faces No. 1 seed Northern Colorado if it gets past the Wildcats.
Big Sky Tournament
Eastern Washington (10-19, 7-9) at Weber State (17-11, 11-5)
Today, 7:35 p.m.
Dee Events Center, Ogden
TV: None Radio: 1430 AM
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