By JIM BURTON
For the Deseret News
OGDEN — For several games now, coach Randy Rahe’s Weber State basketball team has at times flirted with disaster, only to flip an unseen power switch at the most opportune moment.
Thursday’s game with Northern Colorado was just such a game, only this time the Wildcats ratcheted up the drama in the final moments of their 69-63 victory at the Dee Events Center.
With former WSU standout and current Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard looking on from a front-row seat — he stuck around after Wednesday’s loss to the Jazz — the Wildcats (16-8 overall; 11-2 Big Sky Conference) got an intense fight from the surprisingly scrappy Bears (8-17; 4-10).
UNC kept the ‘Cats on their toes with a full-court press for much of the game, and effectively rattled WSU’s 3-point attack, holding the guys in purple to just 5-for-18 shooting from behind the arc.
Senior Jeremy Senglin, who just recently took over as the Big Sky’s all-time leading 3-point shooter, had an especially rough night, going just 2 for 12 from the field and 2 for 8 from 3-point territory.
He finished with just six points, a rebound and assist and four turnovers. Those numbers are of course drastically different from his last game at home, where he poured in 28 points to help beat Northern Arizona.
“Jeremy was just a little bit off tonight,” Rahe said. “He missed some shots that he normally makes, and they guarded him pretty hard.”
Naturally, Rahe wasn’t looking to throw a jab at his star player and he certainly wasn’t interested in kicking a guy when he’s down. So he gave a tip of the cap to the Bears, who really did come out looking to take it to the conference-leading ‘Cats. And he also happily gave credit to his players who picked up the slack for Senglin.
Senior forward Kyndahl Hill scored 19 points to go along with eight rebounds and a perfect 9-for-9 effort at the free throw line. Center Zach Braxton added 16 points, nine rebounds and a blocked shot.
And then there was true freshman Jerrick Harding, the 2016 Kansas Player of the Year award winner. The guard came off the bench to score 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting, plus he hit both of his 3-point attempts and went 3-for-4 at the free-throw line.
“We needed to have somebody step up and Jerrick stepped up,” Rahe said. “He was ready to go. We don’t win the game without the spark, we just don’t.”
Meanwhile, the Bears got a game-high 21 points from speedy guard Jordan Davis, who also added six assists, a block and three steals. UNC also got 11 points apiece from guard Jonah Radebaugh and Chaz Glotta.
The ‘Cats were less than crisp to start the game and the Bears came out playing like they had nothing to lose. They won the first-half rebounding battle, 20-13 and even shot slightly better from the field (43.3 percent to 42.3), and they went into halftime with a well earned 32-28 lead.
UNC led by as many as eight points after halftime, but the ‘Cats would not be denied, even when it sure looked like they might be.
Weber took a 53-52 lead with 7:03 remaining and built it up to a six-point cushion a few moments later. But the Bears continued to scrap, tying the game at 63-all with less than a minute remaining.
Hill iced the game with six straight made free throws over the final 32 seconds.