Tom Smart, Deseret News
OGDEN — It may have subconsciously started with the color-coordination confusion.
Weber State's game against Idaho State at the Dee Events Center on Monday was supposed to be a "whiteout." Fans rolled in groves wearing white apparel, only to see the Wildcats jog out for pregame warm-ups donning gray alternate jerseys.
The whiteout memo was apparently missed.
Befuddlement carried over into a game that Weber State should have handled quickly and efficiently. The 'Cats, although in control throughout, allowed the grossly outmatched Bengals to linger around and even pull within single digits late in their 56-40 win.
"They made it pretty tough on us for a while," Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. "I didn't feel like in the first half we were quite as emotionally invested as I hoped we'd be. It's just a little bit off and I thought that showed again on how we turned the ball over."
With the win, the Wildcats (17-5, 12-2) officially clinched one of seven spots in the Big Sky Conference tournament in March. The victory also set up the conference game of the year with league-leading Montana (18-4, 14-0). The Grizzlies have won 25 consecutive games in the Big Sky, including a 76-74 win over WSU in Missoula early this conference season.
"We expect a hard-nosed game," WSU's Frank Otis said of Thursday's matchup against the Grizzlies. "It's going to be a dogfight — everybody should expect that. They don't like us and we don't like them. Plain and simple — it's a true rivalry game."
With Montana lingering on the horizon, the Wildcats potentially overlooked an inferior opponent in Idaho State (4-19, 3-11), which ranks last in nearly every statistical category in league play.
"I hope not. I don't buy that — I've never bought into that. Real teams play the game that needs to be played," Rahe said about overlooking the Bengals. "But it's human nature, I don't know? Maybe it did a little bit. Obviously they know that Montana is coming up, but we try everything to avoid (thinking about it). If it did — it showed. There were some times where we weren't very sharp. Anyway, it's here now, so we'll go get ready to play."
Weber State shot 23 of 47 from the field and 4 of 15 from beyond the arc while coughing up possession 16 times against ISU. It was WSU's third straight game with an abundance of turnovers — something that Rahe has an immediate priority of addressing.
"I thought again we made some silly mistakes with the ball," Rahe said. "I thought a lot of the turnovers we had again were self-inflicted. We've got to cure it and we're gonna ... try and cure it. If we have to get in better shape — we're going to cure it."
A bright spot was the progression of "Mook" Otis' game on the lower block. The fifth-year senior — who played sparingly at SMU for two years before redshirting at WSU and missing last year due to injury — recorded his third double-double of the season with 10 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
"I just changed my (mindset) — trying to be aggressive so I can help my team accomplish the goal we're trying to accomplish at the end of the season," Otis said. "It's getting emotional. We've got a couple more games and I'm playing every one like it's my last."
Between Otis and Kyle Tresnak, who finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, Weber State outrebounded the Bengals (4-19, 3-11) 35-20.
"They play a lot of zone, so they have to find people to box out," Otis said of ISU. "So me and Tres were already in position for the rebound as soon as somebody missed and that helped us to get buckets."
For only the second time in his career, Scott Bamforth tallied a goose egg offensively, shooting 0-6 from the field and 0-5 from distance. It snapped a 44-game streak in which he's recorded at least one point.
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