Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
OGDEN — To hear Weber State coach Randy Rahe's postgame remarks, you might think his Wildcats had just lost the game.
In fact, the Wildcats won by double digits, beating a spunky Idaho State squad 78-64 in the two teams' Big Sky Conference opener Thursday night at the Dee Events Center.
But after building a 14-point halftime lead and extending the margin to as many as 21 early in the second half, the 'Cats coasted and sputtered far too much to satisfy Coach Rahe, who gave ISU a lot of credit while expressing plenty of concern regarding his team's lack of focus and intensity despite beating the struggling Bengals (2-10).
"When you get somebody down, you've got to put 'em away," he said. "You've got to have a little bit of nastiness when you get somebody down. And we would get them down and it was like we wanted to be a bunch of nice guys, and we'd let 'em back in it. And that's not going to work in conference.
"I want to give Idaho State a lot of credit. They've had some adversity going on in their program (with the abrupt resignation of head coach Joe O'Brien on Dec. 19). I thought those kids came out and fought really, really hard, and I thought they played really hard. They did some things to disrupt our team a little bit. ... They were loosey-goosey and their mistakes weren't bothering them. They were playing free and easy.
"I thought we were really inconsistent tonight," Rahe said with a frown.
"We would play a six-minute spurt where it was pretty good, and we'd play a five-minute spurt where it wasn't very good. I thought our mindset was very loose tonight. It wasn't locked in like it needs to be. ... And it showed in our play. We were very sporadic. I thought we had some good moments, I thought we had a lot of poor moments. It tells you our mindset wasn't locked in to playing a full 40 minutes. ... We've got to get more consistent in everything that we're doing. And we will."
One thing that has been a constant for the Wildcats all season long, however, is the scoring of junior guard Damian Lillard. And on Thursday, the nation's leading scorer had 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the floor and an 8-of-8 night from the foul line, along with three rebounds, three assists, two steals and a crowd-pleasing blocked shot.
Junior guard Scott Bamforth banged in 21 points, grabbed a team-leading six rebounds and handed out a team-high six assists for WSU (9-3), which notched the 900th all-time win in the program's 50-year history as a Division I program. Sophomore forward Byron Fulton added 15 points.
But Lillard and Bamforth both realized that the Wildcats did not play their best game. Far from it, in fact.
"They picked up the pressure and they really started to get after us full court with the pressure, and we kind of got loose," admitted Lillard, who moved into sixth place on the school's all-time scoring list with 1,455 career points. "You've got to give credit to them. They played hard and they kind of spread us out and forced us to turn the ball over and got themselves back into the game a little bit."
"We kinda got lackadaisical and we can't do that," Bamforth said. "When we get a big lead, we need to keep a big lead and get a bigger lead. And we didn't do that tonight. Usually we have, in the past games we have, but tonight we didn't and we need to fix that.
"They're not a bad team," Bamforth said of the Bengals. "They play hard, they play really hard, and they played harder than us tonight. They came out to win."
Senior guard Chase Grabau scored a game-high 31 points for Idaho State, with 26 of them coming in the second half, and he also shared game-high rebounding honors with seven boards. But no other Bengal scored more than eight points, and ISU shot just 38.5 percent (20-of-52) from the field and only 66.7 percent (16-of-24) from the foul line, or it might've been much closer.
In a game which lacked much drama at all, the Wildcats methodically moved ahead by 14 points, 37-23, at halftime and widened their margin to as many as 21, 49-28, early in the second half.
But before they could blow it open, Grabau brought the Bengals back, getting them within 12 at 61-49.
And although the Wildcats were never seriously threatened, it was not one of their better performances.
We'll never apologize for a win — ever," said Rahe, whose team hosts Sacramento State on Saturday at 2 p.m.. "I'm really glad we won the game, but we've got to fix some things, and we're gonna fix 'em."
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