FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Weber State ranks first in the country in free-throw shooting percentage, third in 3-pointers made per game and fourth in 3-point percentage. Junior point guard Damian Lillard is No. 1 in NCAA Division I in scoring and the Wildcats are first in the Big Sky in multiple categories, starting with scoring offense.
Yet senior forward Kyle Bullinger points to something besides statistics as the reason for the team's success, including an 18-4 record and a 10-1 mark in the Big Sky Conference.
"If I was to pinpoint our success this year as being attributed to one thing, I think it would have to be our team unity, more than anything else," Bullinger said. "We've ridden the highs and the lows. We've had some games where we got stung a little bit -- St. Mary's, BYU. We've dealt with adversity with (Frank Otis) going down, with James (Hajek) going down, with my injury. We've dealt with some things that maybe not every Division I team has dealt with, or even another team in the Big Sky and I think the only common denominator you can look at or give credit to is the fact that we've come together as a group and we've displayed pretty impressive unity on the court."
The Wildcats are back on the court tonight to face Northern Arizona at 6:30 p.m. at Rolle Activity Center.
While Weber State (10-1 Big Sky) and Montana (9-1) are even at the top of the conference standings with only one loss, the Lumberjacks (5-19, 1-11) are on the opposite end of the spectrum, with only one victory. NAU opened Big Sky play with a win over Sacramento State but has lost 11 straight since.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats keep shooting their way to the top and have won 13 out of 14.
Weber State is hitting 80.0 percent from the free-throw line, first in the nation, and making its 3s at a clip of 41.4 percent.
Good shooting is no accident, Weber State coach Randy Rahe said; it's one of his highest priorities in recruiting.
"We don't recruit any guards if they can't shoot," he said. "We've had some teams around here where we've had a guy out there that couldn't shoot and you end up playing 5-on-4 a lot. That's a bad feeling as a coach."
Good field goal shooters are likely to be good free throw shooters as well, Rahe said.
In other words, it's not some secret coaching technique that has the Wildcats No. 1 in the country from the charity stripe.
"We work on it a little bit, but we don't talk about free throws," Rahe said. "All we do is shoot them."
And other Weber State players gain confidence when they see junior guard Scott Bamforth, a .903 free throw shooter (sixth in Division I) and Lillard (.870, 28th) knock down almost all their free throws, he said.
As for Weber State's 3-point percentage, Bullinger has his own ideas about why the Wildcats make an unusually high percentage.
The team's mantra on offense is to "pass up an average shot to take a great shot," he said, and players put in a lot of individual work in the gym on their own.
"The reason we're shooting a high field goal percentage is one, we get in the gym and we shoot and two, we execute our offense well," he said.
Weber State has the third fewest turnovers per game (10.2) in the country.
WSU is 68-26 all-time against Northern Arizona, including an 81-67 victory on Jan. 19 in Ogden.
Both teams shot over 60 percent in the first half and finished over 50 percent for the game, while Scottsdale, Ariz., native Kyle Tresnak scored a career-high 22 points in that game. Northern Arizona played without guard James Douglas, who was ill. Douglas is the Lumberjacks' top scorer (13.0 ppg) and leads all Big Sky freshmen in scoring.