Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
OGDEN — Coaches will constantly try to tell you that every game counts the same.
It's part of their mandatory coaching mantra. But don't believe it.
Weber State, still feeling a sick sense of frustration after suffering its first Big Sky Conference men's basketball setback of the season, needed a big bounce-back performance Thursday night against Portland State.
And the Wildcats got just what the doctor ordered, as they rode a superb 40-point performance by junior guard Damian Lillard to a 92-79 victory over the Vikings in front of 6,285 appreciative fans at the Dee Events Center.
"After you drop one, I think it's always important to get back in there and fight and compete and find a way," said WSU coach Randy Rahe, whose team saw its 10-game winning streak snapped with a last-gasp loss at Idaho State last Saturday. "You never want anything to snowball on you.
"That was a tough one the other night, obviously, it was tough to swallow, and sometimes it takes awhile to get rid of something like that. But I have real good faith in these kids. … It's always important to win after you lose, to get that one and hopefully kind of get you back on track to playing well again.
"We didn't play well Saturday night and I thought we played a lot better tonight," said Rahe, whose team improved to a Big Sky-best 9-1 and 17-4 overall. "I'm excited that this team has got a chance to get better now."
Lillard, the nation's leading scorer, connected on 13 of his first 15 shots, including six 3-pointers, on the way to his 40-point outburst — the second-highest total of his career and by far the most he's scored since pouring in 38 points in the Wildcats' win against this same Portland State team in early January at Portland, Ore.
It's the sixth time in school history that a WSU player has scored 40 or more points, and Lillard's now got two of them.
Lillard, who also had five assists, raised his average to 25.1 points per game and shook off any lingering side-effects from last Saturday's sub-par, 15-point outing when the Wildcats fell to the Bengals on a buzzer-beater at Pocatello.
"We had won 10 games straight so that loss, it hurt real bad," Lillard said. "We all sat in the locker room after that Idaho State game and everybody was kind of in disbelief, and it hurt.
"And I think the very next day we made up our minds that we were going to come out and be more focused in practice and just try and get better and fix everything that went wrong — our energy, our minds.
"And that's where it began, with our minds," he said. "And tonight we just came out and we wanted to get back on track and get back to everything that we've been doing when we got on our winning streak."
Along with Lillard, junior guard Scott Bamforth helped fuel the Wildcats' win with 16 points, a career-best eight rebounds and seven assists, which matched his career high.
For Portland State (10-12, 4-6 Big Sky), Charles Odum led the way with 26 points, while Chehales Tapscott scored 15 and Gary Winston added 14 more as the Vikings stayed within striking distance of the Wildcats most of the way.
Rahe, whose team shot a slick 54 percent overall from the field and also from 3-point range, along with 83 percent from the foul line and committed just six turnovers against an athletic Portland State squad, was able to see a silver lining in last Saturday's loss to Idaho State.
"Sometimes it can be helpful," he said. "You don't want to go through it; I'd rather try to learn a lesson from winning a close game or something like that.
"But there's sometimes when a little adversity shows a lot about your team. I've always said and I tell these kids every year before we start that we're going to find out what we're made of and how successful we're going to be after we hit adversity.
"… I thought they handled this situation well," the Wildcats' coach said.
"We'll see where it leads. But I think this game kind of propels us back in the right direction, hopefully, continuing to get better. That's all our concern is right now."
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