OGDEN -- In a typical Big Sky Conference season, teams would be kicking off league play in the first week of January.
But with the additions of Southern Utah and North Dakota, 2012-13 is not a typical Big Sky season -- it's bigger, with a 20-game league schedule that means Weber State began conference play two weeks ago before Christmas.
Now the Wildcats are 2-0 with 18 Big Sky games left ahead of them -- 18 games that used to make up a full league regular season.
Weber State (7-3, 2-0 Big Sky) plays its first league home game tonight at 7 p.m. at the Dee Events Center against Northern Colorado (3-7, 1-1), followed by its first conference contest against North Dakota on Saturday.
The expanded schedule makes for a long haul, Weber State coach Randy Rahe said, but every team is in the same boat.
"It's a little unusual having that many league games. It's going to be a tough grind," he said. "You can't take a day off. The toughest team, the most consistent team, the team that defends and rebounds the best is going to be sitting there at the end."
The Wildcats were tough enough to sweep their first league road trip, but to claim the conference crown, they'll need to weather whatever storms the Sky can throw down at them.
"There's going to be ups and downs," Rahe said. "You've got to eliminate the downs as much as you can. It's going to be a long stretch here, but we just take it, it's the regular old coach-speak, we just try to take it one game at a time, try to get better in practice, try to get to that next game and see what you can do. Then you better shake it off quick -- win, lose or draw -- and get ready for the next one."
With the 2012 part of the '12-13 schedule in the past, Rahe said he likes the identity Weber State has found through its first 10 games.
"We've shown that we have some toughness, we've shown that we have the potential to be a decent defensive team and rebounding team, so that stuff is coming along. I think we're OK where we're at," he said. "You're never as good as you think you are, you're never as bad as you think you are, but we still have a lot of improvement to do. We're by no means a finished product, but we've made good progress."
Northern Colorado is no finished product either, coming into the Dee Events Center tonight with a 3-7 record Rahe says is meaningless.
"Look where they've played their games," he said. "They've played seven road games against really good teams. Their record doesn't indicate how good they are. It's not even close. Anybody else in our league that would have played their schedule would have the same record."
UNC dropped non-conference road games to Cal Poly, Colorado State, UC Riverside, Northern Iowa and Wichita State before beating North Dakota for its first Division I win this season and losing a close one to Southern Utah to open Big Sky play.
With a roster full of sophomores and juniors and no seniors, Rahe said the Bears may have as much returning experience as any team in the league. Sophomore guard Tevin Svihovec is UNC's leading scorer at 11.4 points per game, while junior college transfer Derrick Barden averages 10.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game despite being a 6-foot-5 forward.
He is third in the conference in rebounding, with Wildcats freshman forward Joel Bolomboy in second at 8.4 boards per game.
"(Barden) is tough, he's very talented," Rahe said. "He's a little bit undersized for the power forward position, but he's tough to match up with because he's got guard skills but he can also play in the post really well. He's an inside-outside threat, he's got a big time motor."
The Bears have never won at the Dee Events Center in six tries in Ogden, though two years ago, it took a nearly halfcourt shot by Weber State guard Scott Bamforth at the final buzzer to keep it that way.
Junior transfer forward Davion Berry is WSU's top scorer so far at 13.6 points per game. Bamforth (11.3 ppg) and junior center Kyle Tresnak (10.4 ppg) are next as the Wildcats' balance has been their strength.
"We're slowly getting there," Berry said. "We've just got to keep playing hard and keep working together. Coach said it's going to pan out for us if we keep working hard and doing things that he asks us to do, but I think our team is going in the right direction, I think we're going upward."
Berry said he doesn't care how long the Big Sky schedule is.
"I want to play, so how many games they throw at us, that's how many games I'm going to play and give a max effort," he said.
Tresnak sat out last Saturday's non-conference laugher against NAIA school University of the Southwest as a precaution after spraining his ankle in practice but is ready to play, Rahe said.