OGDEN -- After almost a month away, having a home court advantage again will be a welcome change for the Wildcats.
Weber State meets in-state foe Utah Valley tonight as WSU tries to defend its 18-game home winning streak, the fourth-longest in the country. Tip off is at 7 p.m.
Though the Wildcats and Wolverines have only clawed through five games in their limited history against each other, home court has been the determining factor in the all-time series. WSU leads UVU 3-2, with all wins coming in Ogden and all losses in Orem.
The Wildcats were perfect at the Dee Events Center last season, including a 72-69 win over Utah Valley in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament on March 3.
Rahe said Weber State signed a home-and-home contract with Utah Valley and will play in Orem next season, continuing an in-state rivalry that had been dormant since 2006 before last year's meeting.
Dick Hunsaker, a Weber State alum and former Wildcats assistant under Neil McCarthy, is 191-115 in his 11 seasons as the head coach at Utah Valley.
"He's a great coach," Wildcats coach Randy Rahe said. "He's a great basketball mind. He gets his kids to execute, they're tough, they're physical, they play together, they just play a really good brand of basketball down there. It's fun to watch his kids play on tape because they play the right way."
Bountiful native Ben Aird averages 13.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game to lead Utah Valley, while guard Holton Hunsaker, son of Utah Valley coach Dick Hunsaker, is coming off a 22-point performance in a win over Pepperdine.
Now that Weber State's stretch of three consecutive games away from the Dee is over, the Wildcats (2-2) come home to a three-game homestand with momentum after picking up their first road win at Dayton, a school with its own tradition of a strong homecourt advantage.
"We've been preaching toughness, sticking together, playing physical, and just executing our system," Rahe said. "What (the win) does is hopefully confirms to the guys, hey, if we do these things, you're going to have a chance to have success."
A key defensive stop with nine seconds left helped Weber State seal the deal.
"It's a confidence builder. (Dayton had) the ball, a chance to go ahead, maybe win the game, and our guys were tough, they fought together and they had great pride in trying to get a stop," Rahe said.
That WSU's play of the game happened on defense is significant to Rahe, who constantly preaches its importance.
"When you play in those kinds of environments, the crowd can splinter your team, they can start to pull apart, play one-on-one basketball and not rely on each other. That's something that we really focused on -- staying together in a tough environment -- and they did it," Rahe said. "Because they did it, we were able to sneak out of there with the win. It proves the point, this stuff does work."
Junior center Kyle Tresnak turned in his best performance of the season, scoring a team-high 16 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 22 minutes. Tresnak is a native of Scottsdale, Ariz., but had several relatives, including his parents, in attendance at Dayton.
"I got to see my cousin for the first time in six years," he said. "It was good to let (my relatives) see me play well."
Extra workouts were the key to his breakthrough after averaging 4.0 ppg in WSU's first three games, Tresnak said.
"That's what helped me get the confidence back up, kind showed me that I can make those shots and that I'm good enough to play like that," he said.
The Wildcats needed more than Tresnak in the paint, however. Four Weber State post players finished with four fouls at Dayton but the Wildcats had enough depth to finish the job.
Freshman forward Joel Bolomboy had seven points and grabbed 10 rebounds, his third double-digit performance on the boards in four career games.
Rahe said in-state contests like tonight always carry extra meaning.
"We want to play all the in-state schools," he said.
"Those are great games for everybody. There's a lot more interest in those games from everybody, (both communities) are excited, the fans get excited, the players get excited and it's just natural when you play in-state teams. There's bragging rights on the line ... Those are fun games to play. The reason you play college basketball is to play those games."