CEDAR CITY -- Southern Utah is hosting a "Rivalry Red Out" for its first Big Sky Conference contest with in-state rival Weber State.
The Thunderbirds (5-8, 3-1 Big Sky) will also be painting a bright red-and-white bullseye on the backs of the visiting Wildcats (9-3, 4-0), who have won five straight and remain undefeated in league play.
WSU and SUU have met 28 times in the past, with Weber State holding a 22-6 advantage in the all-time series, but the two in-state schools will be meeting as conference foes for the first time tonight at 7 p.m. at the Centrum.
Weber State senior forward Frank "Mook" Otis, who averages 7.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, expects the T-Birds to come gunning for the Wildcats.
"I don't know what their game plan is going to be like, but I know we have a target on our back because we're undefeated right now, so they're going to come at us," Otis said. "It will probably be one of their biggest games this year. We're going to have to go at them like they're going to come at us. We have to give the first blow, don't take the first blow."
Having an in-state foe as a conference contender only adds to the rivalry, he said.
"Now they're in our league and they're another (team) that's in our way of accomplishing our goals," Otis said, "so we've got to beat them."
WSU, which is entering a stretch with six of its next eight games on the road, will have Saturday off before playing three games next week.
Southern Utah entered the week as one of the Big Sky's undefeated teams, along with Montana and Weber State, before falling 64-59 to Sacramento State on the road Monday in the first of its three games this week.
The Thunderbirds joined the Big Sky Conference in July along with North Dakota, which Weber State welcomed to the league last Saturday with a 95-63 beating, a 32-point win that was the Wildcats' largest conference win since 2009.
WSU is tops not only the Big Sky Conference standings but in 11 statistical categories, including scoring offense (79.8 ppg) and scoring defense (59.6 ppg).
Weber State assistant coach Eric Duft said the Wildcats have won eight of their last nine games by sharing the ball offensively and focusing on their defensive philosophy -- chasing opponents away from the 3-point line and forcing them to take contested 2s instead.
"Our fight's going to be not becoming complacent and having that hunger and that passion to play with the energy and the effort needed to do what we want to do," Duft said. "It's not an easy philosophy. Guys have to be locked in on a daily basis."
Weber State head coach Randy Rahe and his staff preach "multiple efforts" on defense.
"We're talking about not allowing 3s," Duft said. "So if a guy looks like he's going to shoot a 3, we want to get a hand up and fly at him, force him to run off the 3-point line, but we don't want to stop there. We want (the defender) to get back into the play and get back in to contest the shot when he's shooting a pull-up 2. So that takes multiple efforts."
SUU's leading scorer is Davis High product Jackson Stevenett, a 6-foot-4 senior forward from Kaysville who averages 14.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
Weber State senior guard Scott Bamforth and Southern Utah senior guard Damon Heuir shared the Big Sky Conference player of the week honor last week after Bamforth averaged 20.5 ppg in two league wins and Heuir scored 30 points against Northern Arizona, the highest single game scoring total in the league this season.
Otis said the Wildcats relish an opportunity to win in a hostile environment on the road.
"I bet you the coach and the team is feeling like this would be a big win for them and if they can beat us it would make a big statement to the league," Otis said, "but we're not going to go in there and let that happen. We're going to go in there and try to punch them first and get the W."