GAME NOTES: The Weber State Wildcats begin a season-long, four-game homestand on Saturday night when they welcome the Southern Utah Thunderbirds to the Dee Events Center for a Big Sky Conference showdown.
SUU has been slightly below average on the season as a whole, sporting a 10-12 record, but it has stepped up its play in the Big Sky, as its 8-5 league mark places it alone in third place. Following a five-game losing streak in January, the Thunderbirds have heated up in recent weeks with five straight wins, culminating in an 81-79 overtime triumph versus Idaho State on Thursday for just their second road win of the year.
Weber State recently embarked on a four-game road swing, and after dropping its first two on the trip, bounced back last week with wins over North Dakota (66-51) and Northern Colorado (85-64) to improve to 15-5 overall. The team has been impressive in the Big Sky at 10-2, but it is still two games behind undefeated Montana for first place. The Wildcats are surely eager to return home where they've won eight of nine at the Dee Events Center this season
Weber State defeated Southern Utah in Cedar City earlier this season, 81-74, on Jan. 10, to take a 23-6 lead in the all-time series.
SSU shot a modest 43.1 percent from the field and committed an unsightly 22 turnovers, but it was able to outlast Idaho State on Thursday night by winning the rebounding battle (42-28) and by cashing in at the free-throw line (25- of-28). Jackson Stevenett was outstanding in the win, logging 23 points and eight rebounds, as was Damon Heuir with 17 points, eight assists, five rebounds and three steals. Cal Hanks and A.J. Hess were both valuable commodities coming off the bench with 12 and 10 points, respectively. Despite the Thunderbirds' outstanding play of late, they still surrender more points to their opponents (70.7 ppg) than they score themselves (67.6 ppg). They are anchored by two of the Big Sky's most dynamic playmakers in Heuir (16.8 ppg) and Stevenett (16.7 ppg). Heuir is tied with Northern Arizona's Gabe Rogers as the league's top scorer while also dishing out more than three assists per contest, and Stevenett adds 6.2 rpg. Both shoot at least 80 percent from the foul line with more than 90 attempts.
The Wildcats had no problem capturing the 19-point win last Saturday, as they outshot Northern Colorado from the field by a wide margin, 60.8 percent to 38.6 percent. Pacing five players in double figures was Scott Bamforth, who shot 4-of-7 from 3-point range on his way to 20 points. Frank Otis was perfect on six field goal attempts for 15 points, Kyle Tresnak and Davion Berry netted 12 points apiece, and Gelaun Wheelwright had 10 points off the bench. It was just another day at the office for Weber State, which has been fantastic in all facets of the game this season, ranking first in the Big Sky in scoring offense (77.2 ppg), field goal percentage (.505), 3-point field goal percentage (.418), scoring defense (62.0 ppg), field goal percentage defense (.391) and rebounding margin (+5.6). The balanced attack has seven players scoring at least 7.0 ppg, led by 14.3 ppg from Davion Berry. Bamforth is hot on his heels with 13.5 ppg, while Tresnak chips in 12.0 ppg and 5.6 rpg.
As hot as SSU has been of late, it has largely struggled away from home, and it's luck will almost certainly come to an end in one of the Big Sky's most difficult buildings to play if you're the opposing team.
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