Life as a mid-major sometimes means taking a licking a time or two. Weber State returned home to Ogden after taking such a beating. Sure, it was technically at the hands of a fellow mid-major in BYU, but it had all the dressings of a mid-major running into a power above the Red Line. BYU moved below the Red Line this year due to a conference move, but is certainly the budgetary behemoth of the West Coast Conference. Playing in the 20,000-seat Marriott Center in Provo, Weber was short-handed. Its senior leader and best rebounder Kyle Bullinger went down with a nasty dislocated elbow in the previous game (I mean nasty, don't watch that unless you are ready to stomach it), and fellow starting forward Frank Otis went down with a knee injury in that game in Provo.
Sometimes the talent doesn't run too deep in mid-major land, but Weber State was attempting to move on through the rest of its non-conference schedule without these two starters, beginning with this game against in-state foe Southern Utah. The crowd was small but energetic. The 11,000-seat Dee Events Center was about one-third full with the school semester officially over. The nation's leading scorer, Damian Lillard, came out firing by knocking down a 3-pointer with the first shot of the game, ready to move his average back up after being held to just 15 points against BYU. Southern Utah is coached by former BYU head man Roger Reid. Much like Weber's Randy Rahe, Reid looks up to every one of his players as a diminutive man. But unlike Rahe, I hardly heard anything from Reid even though he was just feet away on press row. (I was credentialed through my blog The Upset.) His assistants were often up, yelling, calling out plays--but Reid would pull himself up off the bench to give one-on-one instruction and lead the team in timeouts with his signature limp known state-wide in Utah.
Southern Utah was athletic and had some talent, especially guard Ray Jones, Jr., who ended as the Thunderbirds' leading scorer with 14 points. But the T-Birds got a glimpse of what their move from the Summit League to the Big Sky will be like next year. Weber State started with Kyle Tresnak inside while Lillard peppered threes and driving layups around him. That would be a constant diet for the Wildcats through the first half. Southern Utah couldn't match Weber State's size or find a way to slow down Lillard.
The threat Southern Utah posed (or didn't pose) was apparent in two key places: the first was that Lillard, as the nation's leading scorer, did not take a shot for the first ten minutes of the second half--and he still finished with 31 points. Scott Bamforth, one of the best shooters in the country, didn't take a single shot in 30 minutes of play. A part of me wondered if his coach asked him not to shoot tonight after some of the bombs he hoisted (and missed) in the loss to BYU. Up 66-51 with ten minutes to play, Rahe was exhorting his team only on defense, using the rest of the game as a moment to improve a specific aspect of the team's game. His frustration was visible as his team gave up several fast break points down the stretch.
What struck me about the game is that after Lillard's stint of 10 minutes without a shot, he slowly moved back into the game and ended with 31 points in what seemed like a breeze of an effort. Ending 9-15 from the floor with nine assists and no turnovers, Lillard's ease in success is what makes him a top prospect--I had to keep checking the stat sheets to make sure I had his numbers right on my own tally, because it seemed like I was counting too many points and assists for him. Weber State secured the 84-66 win in preparation to take on Cal on the road next week.
at WEBER STATE 84, SOUTHERN UTAH 66 12/10/2011
SOUTHERN UTAH 4-5 (0-1) -- K. Bailey 4-10 4-4 13; R. Jones Jr. 6-8 0-0 14; J. Stevenett 5-14 2-3 12; R. Taylor 4-10 1-2 9; W. Collie 3-4 2-2 8; D. Heuir 4-7 0-0 11; M. Massey 0-4 0-0 0; T. Koehler 3-5 0-0 6; J. Johnson 1-1 0-0 2; J. Scott 2-3 0-0 4; J. Jeffery 0-2 0-0 0; B. Cameron 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-58 5-7 66. WEBER STATE 6-2 (0-0) -- J. Richardson 3-9 2-2 10; D. Lillard 9-15 8-9 31; S. Bamforth 0-0 0-0 0; B. Fulton 4-7 0-0 10; D. Mahoney 4-5 1-1 9; G. Wheelwright 2-4 1-2 5; J. Hajek 2-4 0-0 4; K. Tresnak 6-9 3-4 15; M. Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-53 15-18 84.
Three-point goals: SUU 5-15 (M. Massey 0-1; D. Heuir 3-6; J. Stevenett 0-3; R. Jones, Jr. 2-4; W. Collie 0-1), WEB 9-18 (D. Lillard 5-8; B. Fulton 2-3; J. Richardson 2-5; G. Wheelwright 0-2); Rebounds: SUU 26 (J. Stevenett 5), WEB 27 (D. Mahoney 7); Assists: SUU 16 (J. Stevenett 5), WEB 20 (D. Lillard 9); Total Fouls -- SUU 13, WEB 9; Fouled Out: SUU-None; WEB-None.