Home is where the heart is.
In college basketball, it's where teams win the hearts of their fans. It's also where the foundations of a successful program are forged.
Weber State (12-7, 9-2 Big Sky) has made itself one of the Big Sky Conference powerhouses first and foremost by its dominance at the Dee Events Center. WSU has won 47 of its last 48 league games at home, including 25 in a row.
Tonight, Weber State coach Randy Rahe's Wildcats will have a chance to tie Montana's Big Sky record for consecutive conference home victories. To get to 26, the 'Cats will have to claw out a win over the only team in the league that has beaten them badly this year.
Tipoff against Northern Colorado (13-7, 7-4) is at 7 p.m. at the Dee Events Center.
In Rahe's eight years as the head coach at Weber State, he has examined the elements that go into building an impressive home court advantage and tried to instill them in his players.
"No. 1, it starts with a pride in your program," Rahe said. "We talk about it all the time before the season with our guys; to have the opportunity to play at a program like Weber State with the great tradition that we've had is an honor and a privilege: Take it seriously. Nobody around here is entitled. They need to be the other way. They need to take great pride in our program and respect our program. And they do."
That earns the respect of the fans, Rahe said. So does winning.
The Wildcat are 54-5 overall in the friendly purple confines in the past four seasons and 102-14 at home in Rahe's eight years at the helm.
Weber State has led the Big Sky Conference in home attendance in 10 of the previous 12 seasons and last year had its highest attendance average in 17 years (6,601 per game).
"We have really good fans," Rahe said. "They've been coming out and supporting us. Once you have a little success and you see that no matter what situation you're in, you can still find a way to win on your home court, that momentum builds and it builds and you start to think, hey, we're pretty good here."
It also creates a cycle where the players don't want to let their fans and teammates down.
"It's always important to protect your home court. That's something you just have to do, especially in conference," WSU senior center Kyle Tresnak said. "That could decide what place you're in and where the (Big Sky) tournament is at, so we really focus on defending our home court. We've been able to since I've been here. I think we have one conference loss here (at the Dee Events Center) in my four years. It's a big emphasis."
Weber State is currently in first place in the regular season race to host the Big Sky tournament, with a two-game margin over Northern Colorado.
The Bears defeated the Wildcats 70-51 on Jan. 9 in Greeley, Colo., but the Wildcats didn't drop another league game until Sacramento State's Dylan Garrity hit a 75-foot shot to beat them at the end of overtime on Feb. 1.
Weber State's players were unhappy with their previous performance against the Bears and anxious to play better on their home court.
"We'll definitely be ready to play Northern Colorado. We kind of owe them something," sophomore forward Joel Bolomboy said. "When we played them (on the road), I feel like we weren't ready as a team."
If the Wildcats tie Montana's mark tonight, they won't have a chance to set the record for nearly another three weeks. WSU's upcoming four-game road trip will stretch until it returns to the Purple Palace on Feb. 27 for a rematch with Sacramento State.
All of that is too far distant, in miles and days, to worry about now. Not with Northern Colorado coming into town angry after losing three straight on the road.
"We're not looking at the record at all," Tresnak said. "We're just looking at a team that's playing well. They've got a lot of talent."
An opportunity to help UNC join the current four-team group of Big Sky schools with at least five league losses could be a significant step for the Wildcats toward locking up hosting rights for the conference tournament, but Rahe doesn't see it that way.
"No, not at all, because of our schedule," Rahe said. "Our schedule is really difficult. I won't think anything more (about the conference race) on Saturday than we've got one of the most veteran, most talented teams in the league coming in here, (a team) that whooped us and whooped us good. We're going to have to play our tails off to compete with them."
Contact reporter Roy Burton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @RoyBurtonSE.