OGDEN — Weber State knew heading into its rematch with Southern Utah on Saturday at the Dee Events Center that the contest was going to resemble old footage of Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” basketball games for two reasons.
First, the in-state rivals, simply put, have a vinegar and baking soda relationship — combine the two and ... boom!
Secondly, in WSU’s seven-point win in Cedar City, the two collectively shot 76 free-throw attempts in a game that featured four technical fouls. That no-holds-barred physicality wasn’t magically going to change in a mere 30 days.
Apparently, all it took was a little pinch of sweetness.
The ‘Cats (16-5, 11-2), after an early technical foul allowed SUU to inch within one point in the first half, caught a sweet tooth and “tasted the rainbow” with a flurry of 3-pointers to smoke the Thunderbirds, 75-58. The win marked WSU's seventh straight win in the series and snapped SUU’s five-game winning streak.
“(We’re) never going to back down from it, but we’re going to keep our cool, too,” Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. “If somebody wants to do something to antagonize you — we’re going to let them know we’re there. We ain’t going to go away, but you have to move on from it and go to the next thing.
“We knew that tonight was going to be a real physical, tough battle. It was down there and tonight I didn’t think was much different,” Rahe continued. “I thought our guys responded to it well. I thought last time we played them the physicality really bothered us and tonight we were ready for it and our mentality was much better.”
This time around the two teamed up for 50 fouls, 56 free throws and three technical fouls.
"That’s how we play. We play just like Southern Utah,” Jordan Richardson, who tied his season high with 15 points, said of the face-to-face style of play. “We’re fighting and not going to back down from anybody. I think that brings a second gear into our team. ... We took the challenge.”
In a span of 21 seconds, WSU’s Davion Berry nailed nearly identical farside wing 3-pointers to put the ‘Cats up 10-5. However, shortly thereafter, Berry and SUU’s Jackson Stevenett were involved in a verbal, slightly physical altercation during a deadball inbounds play.
Berry was whistled for a technical foul that allowed SUU (10-13, 8-6) to pull within 10-9 with 16:25 in the first half after Damon Heuir sank the two freebies.
The technical inadvertently capitulated SUU’s troubles guarding Weber State’s leading scorer, however. Berry, behind his third triple, sparked an 11-2 run to give WSU a 21-11 advantage with 12:29 in the first.
“I just wanted to come out and be aggressive after (the technical foul) and take the opportunities that I get,” said Berry, who finished with a team-high 21 points with six rebounds and five assists.
Then, at the 7:41 mark, Berry pickpocketed an SUU drive to the cup and flushed home a Buzz-Lightyear-up-up-and-away left-handed dunk to seize a mini run by the T-Birds.
“When you got a guy that’s stepping up and makes a couple shots early it really gives your team a lot of confidence,” Rahe said of Berry. “I think anytime you get somebody that gets a quick, hot-hand, everybody feeds off of it. I thought that’s what happened to us tonight. It’s very addictive when somebody gets going like that.”
With the improved play of Frank Otis and Joel Bolomboy along with the constant threat of Kyle Tresnak in the paint, SUU’s bigs were reluctant of venturing to the perimeter to challenge WSU’s shooters. On multiple occasions, the T-Birds never extended a defender off ball screens.
“Tres is a good player so we know that teams are going to drop to him in the paint, so that opens up (shots) for the guards,” Richardson said. “We just had to be ready on the top of the key to knock it down.”
The uncontested looks allowed the 'Cats to net a season-high 11 3-pointers.
“A little bit,” Rahe said when asked if he was surprised that SUU continued to camp in the paint. “We’ve faced a lot of teams that when we run that action the big guys will fire out but they decided they weren’t going to go and I think that gave us a lot of open looks.”
In the second half, Weber State challenged SUU’s role players to beat them. The T-Birds' top scorers — Stevenett, a former Davis High hoopster, and Heuir — were the only players able to eclipse double-digit scoring figures with 24 and 18 points, respectively. The next-highest total was six points.
WSU began the second half on a 17-7 run, including a 7-0 burst in one minute and 18 seconds, and eventually saw its lead blossom to as many as 24 with six minutes remaining. The 'Cats host Idaho State on Monday, the first of three games in six days.
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