Weber State will meet a familiar face in a new place tonight when the Wildcats take on Idaho State.
First-year Bengals coach Bill Evans has spent the past four years as an assistant at WSU nemesis Montana, directing the defense for a Grizzlies squad that has eliminated the Wildcats from the Big Sky tournament for three consecutive years.
Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at Holt Arena in Pocatello, Idaho.
Idaho State (3-11, 2-3 Big Sky) started the season with only one win over an NAIA school in its first 11 games, but the Bengals have gotten better in conference play, beating Northern Colorado and Southern Utah to enter tonight with a two-game winning streak.
Beating SUU on Saturday was meaningful for Evans, who coached the Thunderbirds for 15 seasons from 1992-2007.
Weber State (10-3, 5-0) brings its own six-game winning streak into tonight’s contest, but has to be wary of an Idaho State team that upset the Wildcats last season on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that eventually cost WSU the right to host the 2012 Big Sky tournament.
The Wildcats lead the Big Sky in several statistical categories, including scoring offense (79.1 points per game) and scoring defense (60.7 ppg), and appear to be on a collision course once again with Montana, which is 6-0 in league play and the only other conference unbeaten.
The Bengals are dead last in the Big Sky in scoring average (52.3 ppg) and have scored more than 54 points against a Division I opponent only once in a game this season, but under Evans’ direction, ISU is slowing down the scoring tempo in games and is second in the league in scoring defense (61.4 ppg), first in the same category against Big Sky teams only.
Idaho State topped Southern Utah 54-53 on Saturday behind a career-high 18 points from junior guard Tomas Sanchez. Senior guard Melvin Morgan leads the Bengals in scoring, averaging 12.5 ppg.
Weber State leads the all-time series against Idaho State by 30 games, 71-41, but trails ISU 27-24 in games played in Pocatello.
Weber State’s road game tonight is the first of three for the Wildcats this week after playing only once last week. While three games in six nights is a lot, the schedule helped WSU avoid traveling by bus from Cedar City to Pocatello during the aftermath of last week’s massive snowstorm.
Weber State will face Northern Arizona and Sacramento State at home on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.
Weber State struggled at the free throw line early this season, but the Wildcats won the game at the line Thursday as Southern Utah sent them to the stripe for 49 tries.
With the T-birds determined to foul to extend the game, WSU scored its final 19 points of the game at the free throw line, hitting 25 of 32 in the second half to seal the win.
The Wildcats improved their percentages by getting the ball in the hands of the right players — in particular, senior guard Scott Bamforth, who made just 2 of 8 from the field but went 13 for 14 at the free throw line to finish with 17 points.
Bamforth now leads the Big Sky Conference in free throw percentage (.889), while WSU has moved to eighth in the league in FT percentage and fifth in just conference games.
Bamforth has scored 999 points in his Weber State career and will become the 27th Wildcat to cross the 1,000-point milestone with his next basket.
Roy Burton covers Weber State sports for the Standard-Examiner. Follow @RoyBurton on Twitter, read more about the Wildcats at blogs.standard.net/wsu-sports-blog or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.