Weber State geared up for toughest test yet against Eastern Washington, Idaho

Wednesday , February 21, 2018 - 6:41 PM

OGDEN — Weber State will play its final home games of the regular season this week as Eastern Washington and Idaho come to Ogden in the Wildcats’ most challenging homestand loaded with major implications.

After two wins last week and a pair of Montana losses, the Wildcats (19-7, 12-2 Big Sky) have clinched a first-round bye in the Big Sky Conference tournament and still have a shot at a regular season title.

The top four teams earn a first-round bye in the tournament and with two weeks left in the conference schedule, four games are all that separates that fourth spot and eighth place.

The Eagles (14-13, 9-5) currently sit in fourth place and will be looking to solidify that position as they visit the Dee Events Center on Thursday. They became the first team to hand Montana a loss in conference play last Thursday in Cheney.

Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk, last week’s Big Sky Player of the Week, leads EWU with 20 points per game and is making his way up the record books.

The Ukrainian is already Eastern Washington’s all-time leading scorer and is 31 points away from the 2,000 career points mark -— a feat only four other players in conference history have accomplished. Jeremy Senglin’s mark at 2,076 and, record-holder Orlando Lightfoot of Idaho at 2,102 points, appear within reach.

“They’ve got one of the best players in the league,” WSU head coach Randy Rahe said of Bliznyuk. “They surround him with shooters. They play pick and roll and spread you out ... It’s very simple. It’s nothing crazy, but they’ve got really good players doing it. They are one of the harder teams to guard in our league.”

The Eagles are a formidable threat on the road. Despite going 3-4 on Big Sky road trips, two of those losses were by four points or less.

Idaho (19-7, 11-3) is coming off a confidence-boosting win over the Griz and will come into Ogden on Saturday with the intent to pass the Wildcats for second place.

Only two teams have bested the preseason favorite Vandals. Northern Colorado claimed both its contests against Idaho and Portland State squeaked out a 73-72 win in Moscow.

Led by lengthy senior guard Victor Sanders, Idaho has six seniors and is the second-most experienced team in the country.

“If Idaho wins the league, he could be the MVP. He’s that good.” Rahe said of Sanders. “They’ve got everything. They’ve got athletic guys, they’ve got shooters, they’ve got big guys. They’ve got everything covered that you need to be really good.”

The two games this week are the only matchups between these teams, so the result may determine tie-breakers, if necessary, for tournament seeding.

Both games are scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. and will stream live on WatchBigSky.com and on PlutoTV channel 235, with Steve Klauke providing play-by-play radio commentary on 1430 AM KLO. Thursday’s game against EWU will also air on KJZZ locally, with Saturday’s game on satellite through Eleven Sports.

Contact sports reporter Brandon Garside at bgarside@standard.net, on Twitter @BrandonGarside and on Facebook.com/BrandonGarsideSE.

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