OGDEN — Anteaters, beware.
Utah Valley became an unwitting, unwilling victim to Weber State’s aggressive new defensive approach on Wednesday; as the Wildcats look to extend the fourth-longest home winning streak in the country to 20 games, UC Irvine is up next.
Weber State (3-2) tips off against the Anteaters (4-5) tonight at 7 p.m. at the Dee Events Center.
Coming off a game in which they held Utah Valley to 26.5 percent shooting in the second half and 3 of 16 from 3-point range, the ’Cats would like to continue to sharpen their defensive claws as an in-state battle with BYU and the Big Sky Conference season are fast approaching.
WSU forced 14 turnovers in Wednesday’s game, but more importantly, converted them into 25 points, a major factor in its 33-point margin of victory in a 89-56 win over UVU.
Weber State coach Randy Rahe doesn’t mind seeing his team take the ball the other way in a hurry.
“If we can get some stops and rebounds, we’re pretty good in transition. We’ve got some speed. We can get that ball down the court,” Rahe said. “I told them at halftime (of the Utah Valley game), ‘You guys really like to run, don’t you?’ ‘Yeah, we love it.’ Well, get stops and rebounds, you’re gonna run. We don’t let you do it if they score. You’ve got to earn it.”
The Wildcats earn it by establishing control over the perimeter and forcing opponents to take contested 2-point shots; Wednesday was the best example of the strategy’s effectiveness this season.
Senior shooting guard Scott Bamforth credited an offseason coaching adjustment by Rahe’s staff.
“Our new defensive philosophy has helped us be able to play different ways, play different speeds, play how we want to play,” he said. “We play a lot of lineups and get guys minutes (because) everyone is playing harder so we need breaks.”
Defense feeds the offense, and the Wildcats seem to have found their rhythm there as well. Bamforth said he knew it would take longer to make the offense click because “all summer, all spring, all we did was work on defense,” he said.
Junior center Kyle Tresnak summed up WSU’s approach.
“We don’t want to give up any 3s,” Tresnak said. “That’s what beat us last season. We really focus on that, not giving up 3s, making them shoot a contested 2. That leads to a lot of turnovers, and we’ve got a lot more athleticism this year so we can run. We get out faster and get a lot of fast breaks going.”
It’s working so far, as Weber State holds opponents to 24.6 percent from beyond the arc, best among Big Sky schools.
“We’re a pressure-oriented team,” Rahe said. “Our philosophy is we’re not going to give up 3s, we’re not going to give up layups — we’re going to try to make them take contested two-point shots. We’ve got some athleticism this year so we kind of went into that mode defensively. That’s what helped us get some turnovers in the first half (against Utah Valley). We got them pushed out away from the basket, we tipped some balls and we got some transition going.”
Meanwhile, the Wildcats are shooting 44.2 percent from 3-point land, third best in the nation.
UC Irvine’s squad should look familiar to Weber State after returning all five starters from last season, when the Wildcats pulled out an 80-72 win on the road.
Senior guard Damon Starring plays the leading role in the Anteaters’ offense, averaging 13.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Irvine has yet to win a road game but took then No. 14 UCLA to overtime Nov. 13.
The Anteaters had lost four straight before a 94-52 win Tuesday over NAIA school San Diego Christian. UC Irvine was 13-19 last season but was picked third in the Big West preseason polls due to its returning experience.