Damian Lillard's 31 points lift Weber State to a 84-66 win over Southern Utah University
Tom Smart, Deseret News
OGDEN — It took Weber State about 72 hours to wash that bitter BYU taste out of its mouth.
And the unsuspecting Southern Utah squad wound up serving as the Wildcats' mouthwash.
Three nights after getting clobbered by the Cougars in a 28-point beatdown at Provo, the WSU men's basketball team bounced back by beating SUU 84-66 on Saturday in front of 6,043 fans at the Dee Events Center.
Weber State junior guard Damian Lillard, the nation's leading scorer, poured in 31 points and handed out a career-high nine assists, while sophomore center Kyle Tresnak took advantage of the Thunderbirds' smaller front line to score 15 points.
Sophomores Byron Fulton and Jordan Richardson, making his first career start, added 10 points apiece, and senior forward Darin Mahoney contributed nine points and a game-high seven rebounds for the Wildcats (6-2), who shot a slick 57 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3-point range and 83 percent from the foul line while committing just eight turnovers.
Lillard admitted that it was important for he and his teammates to put that lopsided loss in Provo behind them as soon as possible.
"That same night right after the game, we came in the locker room and Coach Rahe said 'We know we're a better team than this. There's a lot we can learn from it,' " he said. "And we watched film, we took what we could from it, and we came back at practice the very next day and we got better, and then the next day we got better again.
"And we started preparing for this game and we just wanted to come out and bounce back and show that we're tough, and that it didn't change anything for us, and we did."
Rahe, whose team has now beaten Southern Utah five straight times, agreed that putting that embarrassing performance in Provo in its rear-view mirror was important to the Wildcats' progress.
And over the last couple of days, he and his staff challenged them to do some things differently — and to do them better, too.
"After the other night, we felt like we needed to challenge them a little bit," Rahe said. "I didn't think that was a good look at our basketball team. There were a couple of things that we really thought we needed to do better: Our shot selection needed to get a lot better, we needed to share the ball a little bit more, and we needed to defend and rebound better in the second half. I thought our guys did that tonight.
"They take well to coaching, they really understood what we needed to get done. I thought they focused on it and I thought they played pretty well."
Although they're missing injured big men Kyle Bullinger and Frank Otis for the time being, a big part of the Wildcats' game plan was pounding the ball inside early and often, and Tresnak scored six of the Wildcats' first nine points to help give them an early edge.
"This whole season, Coach has been harping on us to 'Try to get the ball inside, get the ball inside,' so we can have balance," Lillard said. "Tres is really coming along and he's been a great presence for us to start the season. And I just think that balance creates a better flow for our team on offense."
"We really made it an emphasis of our game plan tonight," Rahe said of Tresnak's inside scoring, "and our guys did a good job of finding him."
Ray Jones Jr. scored 14 points, Jackson Stevenett added a dozen and Damon Heuir had 11 more for Southern Utah, which will join the Big Sky Conference next year. SUU (4-5) is now 2-16 all time in Ogden and has lost 12 of its last 13 games in the Dee Center.
Tresnak and Lillard led Weber State to an early 17-10 lead, and after the T-birds pulled within two at 20-18, Fulton fueled a 10-5 spurt and then Richardson and Fulton hit 3-pointers in a 12-4 run to finish the first half — including an eye-popping dunk by Lillard — that put the Wildcats ahead 44-32 at halftime.
Tresnak scored seven points in a 14-5 scoring spree to start the second half, pushing the Wildcats' lead to 21 points at 58-37. Southern Utah staged a 9-2 run that got the T-birds back within 14 points, but Lillard re-entered the game and soon sparked a 12-0 spurt that boosted Weber's bulge to 25 points, 76-51, and SUU got no closer than 18 after that.
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