OGDEN — Blowouts had become seemingly ubiquitous during the majority of Weber State's first six conference games.
That all changed Thursday at the Dee Events Center.
The ‘Cats allowed Northern Arizona to linger at an uncomfortably close margin deep into the second half before they ultimately wore down the smaller Lumberjacks with their colossus size advantage in an 83-70 decision.
It was Weber State's eighth consecutive win.
“They were ready to play tonight. Obviously they gave us some problems. They came in and they were the aggressor and they got after us a little bit,” Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. “I thought we were a little bit off from our urgency and edge that we normally have and we weren’t quite as emotionally invested as we had been. We were moving a little bit slower, so we’re going to have to get that energy back for the next game.”
The Lumberjacks (5-12, 2-5) play with a three-guard, two-forward lineup and have only two players listed above 6-foot-7. For the Wildcats (12-3, 7-0), donning a frontcourt already leading the Big Sky in rebounding, establishing the paint was an early emphasis out of the gates and throughout the game Thursday.
“We wanted to go inside. It’s really not any different than normal, but we did know that we had a size advantage and we needed to keep going in there,” Rahe said. “Early on we were going in there and we weren’t getting rewarded because we were missing shots — but we had to keep going to it.”
Weber State sluggishly and uncharacteristically missed relatively easy looks in the post, however. To the contrary, the ‘Jacks jumped out to an early 14-12 lead with 11:58 in the first half. Six of those points came in the paint.
It wasn’t until Gelaun Wheelwright buried a straightaway 3-pointer midway through the first half that WSU tasted its first lead. Then, after Judge Memorial graduate Stallon Saldivar of Northern Arizona knocked down 1-of-2 freebies, Wheelwright followed up with another corner trey for a WSU 18-15 advantage with 9:18 to go until halftime.
The ‘Jacks recaptured the lead, 20-18, on Gabe Roger’s jumper before WSU’s Scott Bamforth answered with another 3-pointer to swing the tide once again.
WSU started 4 of 12 from the field compared to Northern Arizona’s sharpshooting (12 of 19), most of which ironically came inside.
Northern Arizona's DeWayne Russell, the leading scorer in the Big Sky, drilled an uncontested runner to cut Weber State’s lead to one late in the first. On the next possession Max Jacobsen snagged a garbage board and muscled up a shot to give the Lumberjacks a 31-30 lead with slightly under three minutes left.
Jacobsen tallied a team-high 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting.
Surprisingly on the ropes, the Wildcats responded with an 8-0 run to end the half, culminating when Joel Bolomboy flushed home a powerful two-handed dunk to give WSU a 38-31 lead at the break.
Bolomboy stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks, two assists and two steals while bucketing 9 of 9 at the free-throw line. Only a freshman, and still extremely raw offensively, he’s continued to progress throughout the season.
“He’s playing with more confidence and aggressiveness. It goes hand-in-hand. When you play with confidence you’re more aggressive,” Rahe said of Bolomboy. “He’s starting to feel it and you can see the confidence growing on him. (The confidence) should just continue to grow. It’s going to be fun to watch him develop, not only throughout this year, but to see what he could become. He could be pretty good.”
Weber State maintained a double-digit lead nearly the entire second half, mostly from the free-throw line. The Wildcats connected on 29-of-33 attempts at the stripe compared to NAU’s 8 of 15.
However, they never seemed to fully put away the Lumberjacks. The lead continued to fluctuate and eventually dwindled down to 75-68 with 1:17.
Kyle Tresnak poured in a game- and career-high 23 points with eight rebounds. Davion Berry added 17 points while Bamforth chipped in nine points and seven rebounds.
Following a quick turnaround, Weber State will take on Sacramento State on Saturday at the Dee Events Center.
Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @tphibbsami