Weber's the only state school that'll play Southern Utah and give it a chance to show its wares in the populated half of Utah. For that, the T-Birds are grateful, but they have a funny way of showing it: They come to the Dee Center for basketball and behave like bad house guests, scaring the daylights out of the hosts.
T-Bird senior captain Richard Barton remembers an overtime Southern Utah win his freshman year and a one-point loss last season, and he and his mates had visions of the same Monday night.With Barton scoring 18 points in the first half, the T-Birds rolled to a 15-point lead by intermission.
That annoyed Weber enough to make the Wildcats strut their stuff in the second half and come out on top 92-88.
"Weber was a lot more aggressive the second half," said Southern Utah Coach Neil Roberts. "A lot more physical."
"They came out and wanted it more," said Barton.
"Our problem," said Weber Coach Denny Huston, "was the first half we were too eager to make big plays. We wanted home runs rather than singles."
The two things that got the Wildcats back into the game were a defensive switch against Barton and an unconscious half of shooting three-pointers for Tony Nicholas, who finished with 24 points, one less than Barton.
The 'Cats moved center Anthony McGowan over to defense Barton the second half, and he played him differently than David Baldwin had. Baldwin put his body on Barton, and Barton was deadly on little post-up, quick-step swing moves. "Anthony kept him off the block (by pushing him out) and then stepped off him. Without the lever of feeling where the defense is, he didn't know which way to turn," said Huston.
After shooting 6-for-8 the first half, Barton was 2-for-8 the second.
Barton said, "They were pushing me out further. The refs let them play more physical. After I got tripped up a few times, it took its toll." Barton said he banged a knee once when he fell and hurt already-strained wrist ligaments on another fall. "The second half, I couldn't get them (shots) to go down."
"The first half, he was getting away with three steps. That's why Baldwin had problems with him," said McGowan, denying tripping. "I backed off and made him shoot over top of me, kept him off the block and neutralized him."
Without William Allen to take the pressure off Barton inside, the T-Birds were hurting. "Allen, he's our tough kid," said Roberts. But the T-Birds will have to live without him. The club's leading scorer/rebounder of last season was lost for the season Saturday to a ruptured patellar tendon. He was having reconstructive surgery in Salt Lake City while the game was being played.
"It was really hard on us to lose him," said Barton.
Nicholas made six three-pointers in the second half and was 7-for-11 on three-pointers in the game.
Aaron Bell (18 points) and Jason Joe helped get the Wildcats untracked early in the second half with eight points each in the first eight minutes, but the T-Birds still held an edge.
Nicholas made his first three-pointer of the half from the left angle at 10:51. Thirty seconds later, one from the right angle gave Weber its first lead since 2-0 - 66-65. A Nicholas layup plus free throw made it 70-67. Three more Nicholas three-pointers helped the 'Cats to a 10-point lead, 86-76.
As a dispirited bunch of T-Birds rallied again to get within four and then two, Nicholas drowned their hopes with his last homer of the game for a 91-86 margin with :36 left.
Roberts didn't expect intercontinental stuff from Nicholas. "That hurt us bad and made it tough for us to play zone," Roberts said.