OGDEN — The Weber State Wildcats have officially redefined the term "home-court advantage."
With Big Sky rival, second-place Northern Colorado, in town Saturday night, WSU faced one of its biggest challenges of the season.
Weber State responded with one of its best all-around performances of the year, chalking up its record-tying 26th consecutive Big Sky Conference home win, a 79-65 victory at the Dee Events Center.
“It says a lot about our players. It says a lot about our fans,” Weber State head coach Randy Rahe said. “Our kids take a lot of pride in playing at Weber State. It’s an honor and a privilege for me to be able to coach here, and it is an honor and a privilege for our players to play here. When we are on our home court, we are going to give it everything we got.”
A long home winning streak was not the only thing on the line for Weber State Saturday.
The Bears (13-8, 7-5) blew past the Wildcats (13-7, 10-2) 70-51 earlier this year, but with Weber State’s win Saturday night, it successfully extended its lead over the Bears in the conference standings.
“We came out hungry, because we didn’t forget what happened last time,” said senior guard Jordan Richardson. “They beat us by like 20 I think, and we just wanted to put it on them.”
The Wildcats jumped out of the gate with high energy and swarming defense to take an early 14-2 lead over the first six minutes of the game.
Northern Colorado slowly chipped away at the deficit, however, and answered with a 10-2 run over the next four minutes to cut WSU’s lead to just four with 10:50 remaining in the half.
Freshman sensation Jeremy Senglin led the ‘Cats first-half charge with nine points and three assists, while senior Jordan Richardson (seven points, three rebounds) and sophomore stud Joel Bolomboy (four points, six rebounds) helped keep the home team on top.
Senglin was terrific all night long, as he finished with 15 points (all of which came from beyond the arc), three assists and two rebounds to help Weber State take a 39-32 advantage at the break.
“He looked really comfortable tonight. He looked very confident shooting the ball, and he’s been shooting the ball pretty well lately,” Rahe said. “He really shot the ball well tonight. Every shot he took tonight, he jumped up there with confidence.”
The Wildcats’ strong offensive performance and smothering defense continued in the second half, as they drilled their first four shot attempts, three of which came from long distance, and held UNC to just 34 percent shooting to ignite a 13-2 run and open up a commanding 52-34 lead with 15:00 left.
“After halftime, I thought we got our energy back to go on that run,” Rahe said. “I thought that was the key to tonight’s win: Our energy was up and we maintained our energy throughout the half. We didn’t have that lull where we lost our energy and they went on a run.”
Tate Unruh netted a game-high 18 points in an effort to keep UNC within striking distance, but the Wildcats’ dominant and well-balanced offense was just too much for the Bears.
WSU shot the lights out all night long, as it went 12 for 20 from long distance and shot high than 60 percent from the field against a stingy Northern Colorado defense.
Weber State also dished out 19 assists, had four players finish in double figures and held Northern Colorado less than 40 percent shooting to come away on top.
The Wildcats next embark on a four-game road trip, starting with in-state rival Southern Utah on Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Centrum Arena.
Ryan Love is a full-time student at the University of Utah studying communications, and has been a part-time sports reporter and scoreboarder for the Deseret News since Oct. 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724