Extra Point: Weber State basketball ‘didn’t leave anything to regret’
BOISE, Idaho — Sometimes it can be hard to parse the conclusion of a basketball season in an increasingly rings-or-bust environment.
Weber State men’s basketball had the makings of a Big Sky champion, adding athletic senior transfers Koby McEwen and JJ Overton to a group of returners that went 12-3 in the Big Sky the season prior.
Reigning Big Sky freshman of the year Dillon Jones became a top-1o rebounder in the country and added a 3-point shot to test defenses. And WSU employed a disruptive defensive style that allowed it to hang huge runs on opponents all through the schedule, getting out in transition and logging one of the fastest offenses in the nation, by average length of possession — something new, exciting and unique for the club.
WSU won a true road game in Pittsburgh to start the season, swept a tournament in Florida and got out to an 8-0 record, its best start in 36 years. Later, WSU began Big Sky play 11-1 after improbably and convincingly taking a stretch of four games in eight days across four cities that included road wins over No. 2 Southern Utah and No. 3 Northern Colorado in consecutive contests.
Something odd happened from there that’s somewhat difficult to diagnose. WSU went through stretches of games where it struggled to stop driving guards, gave up too many good looks from the 3-point line, or both. That led to a 13-7 conference finish and the No. 4 seed in the tournament.
After that slide, the effort the Wildcats put on the floor in Boise was akin to a flip of the switch. Weber State bludgeoned No. 5 Montana with defense and efficient shotmaking to claim a quarterfinal win, and did everything it needed to defensively in the semifinal against No. 1 Montana State.
But the offensive well dried up late Friday night, MSU got itself to the free-throw line, and the Bobcats continued their season that climaxed with a 21-point win over Northern Colorado in the tournament championship game Saturday. Jones was later named to the Big Sky all-tournament team.
So the Wildcats put together a strong season with plenty of memories, great wins and top-flight individual efforts. But it is likely to be remembered for the slide down the stretch, even as WSU proved Friday that the margins between lifting a trophy or going home too early can be incredibly small.
Perhaps opportunities were left on the table, but Jones said it was not due to effort or passion.
“I have good faith that our team will remember this, that we didn’t leave anything to regret, for sure. We left it out there,” Jones said. “We did exactly what coaches asked us to do, played as hard as we possibly could. We stopped the MVP of the league. We did everything you’d say you’re supposed to do to win a game, and the ball just doesn’t go in.
“In the game of basketball, you’ve just got to take the bad with the good. That’s just how it goes. So I’ll remember this team as a team that just left it out there. You can go back and see teams and have people say they should have done this, should have done that. My team won’t have that to say in the future. So I’m proud of my team.”
Jones and head coach Randy Rahe spoke with the media at Idaho Central Arena with red eyes. If there weren’t tears in them, it was clear there had been moments earlier.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” Rahe said. “I love them to death. They’ve given us their heart and soul all season long, and it hurts. It really hurts.
“I’ve got tremendous, tremendous kids. They’re really good basketball players but they’re better people than they are basketball players,” he continued. “The new guys, they came in and bought into our culture, bought into how we do things at Weber State.
“I’ve been doing it 16 years and this team cared as much about winning and about each other as maybe any team I’ve ever had. I love them for it and wish they had a better fate. I think they deserved better, but that’s the way the ball bounces and it didn’t work out. But I absolutely love this team and love what they’re all about.”