Unbeaten Weber State basketball focuses on conference play to open December full of home games
OGDEN — After five games across two weeks of road trips, Weber State men’s basketball returns home this weekend to play two conference games at the Dee Events Center looking to continue the team’s best start in 36 years.
After a home win over Western Colorado, the Wildcats ramped up the season Nov. 15 with a close win at Duquesne, then traveled from there (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) to St. Petersburg, Florida, and swept the Jersey Mike’s Classic with wins over Massachusetts (by 15 points), Ball State (11) and Green Bay (10) that weekend.
WSU closed out the string of road games by beating Dixie State on Saturday by 17 points.
Now, the Wildcats host Northern Arizona on Thursday and Portland State on Saturday for an appetizer of Big Sky Conference games to start a December full of home games.
At 6-0 (5-0 against Division I opponents), Weber State is one of 18 remaining undefeated teams in the country and is one of only three of those to have at least two true road wins.
Senior guard JJ Overton, who is averaging 15 points per game on 68% shooting, says his team’s goal is to press forward.
“I don’t pay attention to the stat books. I look at what I can do better, watch film, talk to the guys and just keep playing,” Overton said. “I think everyone only cares about the success, as we are 6-0. We want to be 7-0.”
Overton said the extended road swing helped the team grow closer together, and that investment is high from the starting lineup to the end of the bench.
Head coach Randy Rahe learned about his team’s defensive abilities and togetherness. He’d like to see his team rebound more consistently and to use some newfound health to extend the rotation a bit more.
Otherwise, he and Overton are concentrated on the team’s mentality as it puts conference games on the ledger.
“It’s a group that seems to be ready to play every night,” Rahe said. “But we’ll talk a little bit about how you can’t take this stuff for granted. You’ve got to understand why we’ve had a little bit of success and it’s because we work our butts off, we practice hard and we do it together.”
Shooting-wise, Weber State is one of the most efficient scoring teams in the country and can cause droughts on the defensive end. Overton wants to see efforts go for all 40 minutes.
“I think I can improve my leadership, making sure everybody’s focused and locked in. People go on runs because maybe (some) on the court aren’t as locked in, or one person is maybe having a bad game,” he said. “But if I can do a better job of keeping us all laser-focused and keep a consistent line, I think that can help us improve and keep winning games.”
The Wildcats are playing at home for the first time since Nov. 9. After these two conference games, WSU plays at Washington State on Dec. 8 before hosting home games against Maine Fort Kent (Dec. 11), Utah State (Dec. 15), BYU (Dec. 18) and Fresno State (Dec. 23).
“We’re 6-0, so I’m expecting a crowd. I’m expecting some type of family love around Weber,” Overton said. “This is a special year, we’re 6-0 for the first time in a long time, so I expect to see a lot of faces.”
Under third-year coach Shane Burcar, the Lumberjacks — 2-4 against Division I opponents — are similar to last year’s team that suffered losses of 33 and 22 points at the Dee Events Center, where Weber State is currently on a 12-game winning streak and is 49-9 all-time against NAU.
The main difference is the star guard: Cam Shelton transferred to Loyola Marymount, and sophomore Jalen Cone has the spotlight at NAU after transferring from Virginia Tech. The 5-foot-11 guard leads the ‘Jacks at 16.1 points per game, though on an inefficient 38% clip from the field. He gets to the line five times per game and shoots 88% there.
Nik Mains is still at forward, scoring 12.1 points per game and taking two-thirds of his field-goal attempts from behind the arc at a 38% success rate. Mason Stark is a spark off the bench, scoring 7.5 points per contest while shooting 50% overall and from 3 (he’s 7 of 14 from deep).
The Lumberjacks have mixed results after losing road games to Arizona and Washington to start the season: a home win over Cal State Bakersfield, a two-point road win at UT-Rio Grande Valley, then a two-point home loss against UTRGV, and getting blasted by 17 at home against Cal State Fullerton.
As a team, NAU seems to struggle with most of Weber’s strengths. WSU is fifth nationally in effective field goal percentage, and NAU is allowing opponents to shoot high percentages. Turnovers stand out as well: WSU is a top-100 team in turnover rate with the ball, and NAU’s defense is bottom-20 nationally in creating turnovers; when NAU has the ball, they’re a sub-300 team in turnover rate while WSU’s defense is 60th in creating turnovers.
The game tips off at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Dee Events Center. The game will stream on ESPN+ with a radio call on 103.1 FM.
The Vikings still feel like an unknown under first-year head coach Jase Coburn, who took over after Barret Peery left to become associate head coach at Texas Tech. Portland State is 2-3, with two wins over non-Division I opponents and two losses against Oregon State and Iowa.
PSU competed somewhat well with Oregon State and not so much against Iowa. The Vikes have only played one game against a “like” opponent, hosting Shantay Legans’ Portland squad on Nov. 23 and losing by 15.
Well-traveled transfer forward James Jean-Marie — via Navarro College, San Diego and Hawaii — leads Portland State with 13.4 points and 11.2 rebounds, equally effective on the offensive and defensive glass. Junior wing Marlon Ruffin, an Omaha transfer, also scores 13.4 points per game. Khalid Thomas and Paris Dawson are starters familiar from last season.
PSU doesn’t get to the line often, shoots the 3 at 18.1% against DI opponents, and turns the ball over at a high rate against the better teams. The Vikings did limit turnovers to 11 against Portland but shot 2 of 23 from deep. Chances are WSU will focus on keeping the ball out of the paint and rebounding off its usually good first-shot defense.
Weber is 23-4 all-time against PSU in Ogden. The two teams did not play in Ogden last season; WSU won the first game of a weekend in Portland by 28 points before losing the second game by two.
The game tips off at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Dee Events Center. The game will stream on ESPN+ with a radio call on 103.1 FM.