OGDEN Had Weber State defeated Northern Arizona Friday night in the Dee Events Center, Randy Rahe would have been quick to point out his Wildcats had not accomplished anything and that there were still nine games left to win, or lose, the Big Sky regular season crown.
Instead, Rahe's team lost to the Lumberjacks and he's now an even bigger believer in that line of thought.
"We never, ever look at the big picture and standings," Rahe said after WSU dropped a 69-56 decision to NAU. "We just try to get better one day at a time ... and we've got a long, long ways to go."
The outcome of the game gives the Lumberjacks sole possession of first place in the Big Sky standings and brings the Wildcats back down to earth after they had won five straight games to climb into what was a tie for the top spot.
More importantly for the Wildcats, though, is the slap to the face they got from NAU.
"It was another wake-up call for us," WSU's Dezmon Harris said.
It might be a wake-up call for the rest of the Big Sky, too, as Northern Arizona is now firmly established as the team to beat as the conference schedule approaches its midpoint.
The Wildcats (10-9, 5-2 Big Sky) got into early foul trouble with leading scorers Harris and Arturas Valeika teamed up for zero points, five turnovers and six personal fouls in only 13 combined first-half minutes.
With those two on the bench, the Lumberjacks (14-6, 6-1) grabbed a 33-22 lead heading into the break thanks to 56.5-percent shooting while WSU managed to make only 33 percent of its shots and turned the ball over 10 times.
Harris had a solid second half, but Valeika fouled out with only 11 minutes on his stat sheet. He was joined on the bench by Daviin Davis and Kellen McCoy with five fouls by the time the game wrapped up. They were joined by NAU's leading scorer Kyle Landry who had only four points and two rebounds before earning his own front-row spectator seat with only 14 minutes played.
"It affected our offense a lot," Rahe said. "We flow a lot better with them out there."
Even without Valeika, WSU made things interesting down the stretch.
Weber State made a few runs in the second half and got the NAU lead trimmed down to five points at 58-53 with 2:17 to play but was unable to finish off the rally and the Lumberjacks sank 10 consecutive free throws over the final couple of minutes to pull away for the win. WSU hit only 37.2 percent of its shots, was outrebounded 34-28 and committed 19 turnovers.
Kellen McCoy came off the bench to lead the 'Cats with 17 points, while Steve Panos added 13 points and nine rebounds.
Despite the loss, Rahe said he can't find too much fault with the effort his team showed in the face of adversity.
"I can live with losing a ball game as long as we're fighting and scratching," Rahe said."You can either go south, or go north," he said. "We're going to go north."