OGDEN — The Wildcats are starting to toe the line.
And knock down foul shots while they are there.
Weber State (12-3, 7-0 Big Sky) has hit free throws at an 80.2 percent clip in its past four games after shooting just 65.7 percent in the Wildcats’ first 11 games.
WSU was ranked ninth in the conference in free throw percentage as of Dec. 31 and has since climbed to sixth place, shooting 70.1 percent for the season overall. And in Big Sky Conference games, they rank third in the league, knocking down 75.6 percent of shots from the charity stripe.
While Weber State is now taking advantage of its freebies, nothing comes free in conference contests.
Sacramento State (8-7, 3-4) is the next challenger to WSU’s unblemished conference record.
Weber State and Sac State tip off tonight at 7 p.m. at the Dee Events Center in the Wildcats’ third game this week.
The Hornets beat Utah on Nov. 16 and are the only team in the Big Sky outside of league-leaders WSU and Montana to have an overall winning record.
“I know (coach) Brian Katz feels like this is the best team since he’s been at Sac State,” Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. “A lot of people that were playing them early in the season thought they were one of the top three or four teams in the league. I still think they probably are.”
They’re led by senior forward John Dickson, who is sixth in the conference in scoring at 14.2 points per game. Four starters average double figures, including sophomore guard Dylan Garrity, last season’s Big Sky freshman of the year, who is also tops in the league in assists at 5.1 per game.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for their program. I’ve got a lot of respect for coach Katz; the job he’s done in a tough situation is really good and he does it the right way,” Rahe said.
“They’ve got a monster inside that’s hard to guard, their perimeter guys can all score and they defend the heck out of you.”
While Sacramento State comes to town on the heels of a 60-59 last-minute loss to Idaho State on Thursday in Pocatello — the Bengals hit an 88-foot shot at the end of the first half and a 10-foot runner with four seconds left in the game to break the Hornets’ hearts — Weber State is riding an eight-game winning streak.
The Wildcats are becoming even more dangerous as they turn weaknesses into strengths.
Rahe has said all along that his players would start making free throws in games like they do in practice. After all, the ‘Cats led the country in free throw percentage last season, hitting 81.4 percent, the highest single season percentage in Big Sky history.
“We’ve got good shooters, so good shooters usually means you’ll make free throws,” he said. “Early in the year, a lot of the guys were either new starters or new to the program. I don’t think they were totally comfortable. There’s a little (bit of) nerves up there when you’re not used to shooting free throws in a game situation; I think our guys are getting a lot more comfortable now.”
Rahe blames at least one of his team’s three losses this season on its early free throw woes — the Wildcats missed an opportunity for a rare win in Logan in a 65-55 in-state loss to Utah State when they made only 14 of 24 from the free throw line, but WSU not only got to the line in Thursday’s win, it cashed in its chances, making 29 of 33 (87.9 percent).