PROVO — Facing the top scorer in the country, and facing the team that had been widely considered the best in the state, BYU was highly motivated for Wednesday night's game against Weber State.
It showed from the opening tipoff as the Cougars crushed the Wildcats, 94-66, at the Marriott Center.
Thanks to some help from former BYU star Jimmer Fredette in practice during the week, the Cougars held Wildcat star Damian Lillard — who entered the game as the No. 1 scorer in the nation, averaging 28.2 points per game — to a season-low 15 points.
Fredette, who led the country in scoring and earned consensus national player of the year honors last season, played the role of Lillard on the scout team during one practice this week, according to BYU coach Dave Rose.
"Our guys, they know what it's like to play with the leading scorer in the country," Rose said. "Tonight, they were ready. (Lillard) is a terrific player. I thought we challenged his shots. The shots he made were difficult. I was really impressed with how we were consistently engaged on trying to make the game hard for him."
The Cougars also made a resounding statement about where it ranks among the state's teams.
While the Cougars lost at Utah State in their season opener, the Wildcats defeated the Aggies at home days later, prompting many to crown Weber State as the Beehive State's top squad.
"It's something that just gives motivation. You don't want to be anything but the best team, especially in Utah, or the nation for that matter," said guard Brock Zylstra, who said he had heard that kind of talk this week. "When you hear stuff like that — the best team in Utah is not your team — you take it to heart. For some guys, that's why they played more aggressive tonight, to prove that we are a great team."
The Cougars (7-2) broke open a close game midway through the first half thanks to an 18-4 run that gave them a 40-24 advantage over the Wildcats (5-2). From there, they cruised, leading by as many as 34 points late in the second half.
"I thought tonight our players were ready to play," said Rose. "We were engaged from the start on both ends of the floor against a very good Weber State team."
BYU shot 64 percent (21-of-33) from the floor in the second half while Weber State shot just 34 percent during that span.
Rose called it "maybe our best game of the season."
The Cougars enjoyed balanced scoring as six players scored in double figures, led by forward Noah Hartsock — who poured in 19 points to go along with 12 rebounds — while Zylstra (15), Charles Abouo (15), Stephen Rogers (15), Nate Austin (15) and Brandon Davies (11) contributed to the offensive assault. Both Rogers and Austin did their damage after coming off the bench.
During one stretch in the second half, Rogers scored 10 straight points for BYU and 13 of 15.
"That's a strength of our team," Zylstra said. "Any guy on the floor can score, can put it in the basket, so that's a really hard thing for other teams to game plan against. All five can have a big night."
Weber State needed a big night from Lillard, but it didn't happen. The Cougars devised a game plan to slow him down, and it worked.
"He's a phenomenal player," Zylstra said of Lillard. "You've seen that in his first six games, where he's had 30 or 40 points. He's good in transition and that's where we tried to limit him."
"That was one of our main objectives, to guard (Lillard) as a team. … Charles and Anson (Winder) did a great job of containing him and contesting shots. He's going to make shots because he's a really good player. But as long as we can make him shoot contested shots for 40 minutes, it's going to be hard. I think our defense did a really good job of containing him."
Weber State coach Randy Rahe credited BYU's defense.
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