San Jose State may be the perfect early-season opponent to illustrate how Weber State (1-0) will have to adapt without the second-leading scorer in the nation.
Last year at the Dee Events Center, the Spartans forced the Wildcats to double overtime in a game where WSU needed all of Damian Lillard's career-high 41 points to escape with a 91-89 win.
Tonight's road contest, starting at 8:30 p.m. at The Event Center, will be Weber State's first true test of life after Lillard, now the starting point guard for the Portland Trail Blazers.
"It's a little bit different team we're putting out there this year," seventh-year WSU coach Randy Rahe said. "Guys have been put into more important roles, we're going to rely on other guys a lot more, we've got some new guys that have got to play, so I totally agree -- last year, we barely got by that (San Jose State) game and Damian carried us. This year, if we're going to have a chance to compete with them, we're going to have to have balance. ... Everyone's going to have to be involved."
After coasting to a 58-point win over NAIA school Arizona Christian in the season-opener on Nov. 9, the second-largest margin of victory in school history, the Wildcats will face a tougher challenge in San Jose State (0-2), playing its last season in the Western Athletic Conference before joining the Mountain West.
The Spartans, coming off a 9-22 record in 2011-12, were picked ninth in the WAC preseason polls but return senior guard James Kinney, who scored 28 points in the double-OT game in Ogden and is averaging 21.0 ppg through two games this year. Sophomore guard D.J. Brown scored 24 points in San Jose State's loss to Houston on Tuesday.
SJSU also has height in the frontcourt with the addition of 6-foot-11 juco transfer Alex Brown at center and 6-9 Santa Clara transfer Chris Cunningham at forward. They're not even the tallest Spartans -- 7-1 freshman Mike VanKirk has not played this season.
Rahe said the Spartans' talent level is comparable to what the Wildcats will face in conference play.
"I told the guys this is very similar to going on the road in the Big Sky to one of the top teams in the league and having to give yourself a chance to be successful," he said. "From that standpoint, it's a really good indicator."
Rahe said he scheduled three straight road games early in the season for a reason. Next up are Utah State (Nov. 24) and Dayton (Nov. 28).
"We need to find out in the next two weeks what type of team we're going to have. Right now it's hard to tell," Rahe said. "What I'm looking for is all the intangible things: No. 1, how tough are we? Are we tough enough to go on the road and compete. Are we together enough? Those are two things that I'm going to be searching for -- and who's going to step up and show some leadership when we're in a tough environment on the road against a really highly talented team. That's kind of why we set these three games up this way. A lot of people told me you're crazy and you might not be successful, but I'll be honest with you, I'm looking at the big picture rather than the short-term picture. This will start to give us an indicator of where we're at."
Junior forward Davion Berry dropped in a team-high 17 points and six other Wildcats scored in double-figures in the cake-walk over Arizona Christian.
Junior Jordan Richardson scored 15 points on 6 of 7 shooting (3 of 4 from 3-point range) with seven assists. Richardson started in Lillard's old spot at point guard but isn't trying to fill his shoes as a scorer.
"Dame's a great player. I learned a lot of him going against him every day in practice. I'm taking different things from him, but my main focus is trying to run the team, get guys shots," Richardson said. "My shots are going to come from kick-outs, stuff like that."
Weber State is facing San Jose State for the third straight season and the all-time series is tied 2-2.
"Arizona Christian was just a stepping stone, so we're ready to go on the road to San Jose State," Richardson said. "We're ready for them. We're prepared."
* WEBER STATE INKS TWO PLAYERS: Rahe announced next year's class of players Wednesday as Richaud Gittens and Jeremy Senglin signed national letters of intent to join Weber State for the 2013-14 season.
"We couldn't be more excited to have Richaud and Jeremy join our program at Weber State," Rahe said. "We pinpointed them early as our top priorities for the year and we're really excited to sign them. Both will be great fits for our program and are high character kids, good students and come from great families. They are both very tough and competitive and have been extremely well-coached in high school and in very reputable AAU programs."
Gittens is a 6-foot-4, 180-pound guard who joins Weber State from Tempe, Arizona. Gittens is a senior this season at Marcos De Niza High School in Tempe and is one of the top players in Arizona. As a junior last year he averaged 14.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 2.0 assists per game. He scored in double figures in 18 of 23 games last season, including a season-high 28 points in one game. He was also a member of the Arizona Stars AAU program.
"Richaud is extremely athletic and can really make plays," Rahe said. "He is a really tough competitor and is a very capable shooter and an outstanding defender who plays with a high level of intensity."
Senglin is a 6-2, 185-pound guard who comes to Weber State from Arlington, Texas where he is currently a senior at Bowie High School where he played for coach Allen Gratts. Senglin has been rated as one of the top guards in the Dallas area. He received offers from several schools across the nation and is expected to be a combo guard at Weber State. He also played on the Texas Select AAU team, the same team as current WSU freshman Joel Bolomboy.
"Jeremy is a very good athlete and highly skilled player," Rahe said. "He does everything well and can really shoot the ball well and is really tough. He has a high basketball IQ and has the opportunity to be a really good defender."
Weber State also expects to sign another guard next week, though it will be awhile before he arrives in Ogden. McKay Cannon, a 6-1 guard from Shelley, Idaho, plans to serve an LDS mission prior to joining the Wildcats for the 2015-16 season.