CEDAR CITY -- A back-and-forth Big Sky Conference contest turned into a march back and forth between free throw lines Thursday at the Centrum Arena as Weber State scrapped out a 81-74 victory over Southern Utah.
The Wildcats (10-3, 5-0 Big Sky) extended their winning streak to six games to stay perfect in league play behind 19 points from junior forward Davion Berry and a double-double by freshman forward Joel Bolomboy, who had 13 points and hauled down a career-high 17 boards, tied for the most rebounds by any Big Sky player in a game this season.
Senior shooting Scott Bamforth added 17 points for WSU and made 13 of 14 from the charity stripe in a game that degenerated into a free throw fest, with both teams combining for 76 attempts at the line.
Junior center Kyle Tresnak added 11 points as Weber State overcame a 29-point night from Davis High product Jackson Stevenett. The Kaysville native, coming off a 24-point night for Southern Utah (5-9, 3-2) in its loss to Sacramento State on Monday, hit 9 of 16 from the field and added 11 of 12 from the free throw line.
SUU senior guard Damon Heuir, an Australian who was co-Big Sky player of the week with Bamforth after scoring 30 points last week against Northern Arizona, added 16.
The Thunderbirds and Wildcats turned their first meeting as Big Sky Conference foes into a slow-crawling brawl.
"That's probably one of the more physical games that I've been involved in for a long time," Weber State coach Randy Rahe said.
"We tried to get our guys ready for it; we bumped them really hard (in practice) for two days, hit them with pads, but it's not the same until you get down in the middle of it. I thought their phyicalness really affected us in the first half offensively more than anything. They got us out of rhythm and we took some quick, out-of-character shots because they were physical with us and they were getting into us but our guys made a better adjustment in the second half."
The blizzard outside the Centrum was a cold contrast to the physical, heated battle that saw two players on each team assessed for technical fouls.
The intensity led to some cold shooting: Stevenett scored SUU's first basket of the game on a layup nearly five minutes into the game and both teams' struggles to get baskets continued through through the first half as Weber State went 9 of 31 (29.0 percent) from floor and 1 for 6 from 3-point range in the first half, while Southern Utah was 10 for 30 (33.3 percent), with half its field goals coming from Stevenett.
Wade Collie scored just before the buzzer to bring the Thunderbirds back to within one at 30-29 at halftime.
First-year coach Nick Robinson credited Weber State's ability to score in transition in the second half.
"I really felt the game was one that was decided in transition," he said. "They had 15 transition points and we only had (two). When it was back-and-forth in the halfcourt, I thought we matched up pretty well with the top team in the league."
After a Collie 3-pointer gave SUU a 38-37 lead, WSU used a 9-2 run to establish some separation and built as much as a 15-point lead before the T-birds became foul birds.
An alley-oop slam by Bolomboy with 4:43 in the game marked Weber State's final field goal of the game as the Wildcats scored their final 19 points from the free throw line.
"It was a pretty physical game, there were a lot of foul calls. For the most part it was pretty tough," Bolomboy said. "We were battling each other, battling for the rebounds, battling over screens, fighting over screens."
Bolomboy said he didn't have any idea how many boards he had pulled down until it was over.
"I was just trying to chase every rebound I could," he said.
WSU improved its shooting to 54.5 percent in the second half and 39.6 overall, and the Wildcats got the ball into the hands of the right people in the second half, going 25 of 32 from the charity stripe.
"We knew it was going to be tough," Bamforth said. "Especially down here. It was going to be a tough, grind-it-out game and they kind of slowed it down at the end."
Weber State is off Saturday and will face Idaho State in Pocatello, Idaho, on Monday in the first of its three games next week.