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Weber State basketball: Wildcats send off 3 seniors with 85-58 blowout of Northern Arizona

By BRETT HEIN - Standard-Examiner | Mar 2, 2024

Robert Casey, WSU Athletics

Weber State's Dillon Jones, left, grabs the ball against Northern Arizona's Liam Lloyd (21) on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Ogden.

OGDEN — As the final of three seniors to check out of Saturday afternoon’s contest, Dillon Jones took hugs from his teammates, held his hand up to the crowd, took a knee at midcourt and kissed the Weber State logo before leaving the Dee Events Center court for the last time of his college career.

And what a weekend he had.

Two days after his 30-point, 23-rebound, nine-assist performance, Jones diced up Northern Arizona for 21 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists — likely locking up Big Sky MVP in the process — and the Wildcats shut down the Lumberjacks in the second half for an 85-58 victory.

Steven Verplancken Jr. scored 19 points on senior night, and KJ Cunningham left the court for the final time in five seasons with eight points.

Weber State finishes with a 12-2 home record this season and, though the superlatives for Jones are plentiful, he has several more games to add to them.

Robert Casey, WSU Athletics

Weber State players honored on senior night, Steven Verplancken (11), Dillon Jones (2) and KJ Cunningham (3) pose for a photo before the game Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Ogden.

“I think if you tried to write a script up for how you wanted to end for those guys at home, probably couldn’t have done much better than tonight,” WSU head coach Eric Duft said. “To get away from (NAU) in the second half and let the crowd recognize those guys … they’re better people than they are players, and they’re pretty good players.”

Trenton McLaughlin used his smooth shooting stroke to score two paint buckets out of halftime for Northern Arizona (14-17, 7-10 Big Sky), cutting Weber State’s lead to 44-40 with 16:50 left.

The Wildcats (20-10, 11-6) then held NAU without a field goal for the next 14 minutes.

Verplancken took a steal for a transition three-point play and Viljami Vartiainen splashed a straightaway 3 to cap a 10-0 run and give WSU breathing room at 56-42 with 14:15 left.

As WSU kept forcing NAU into brick after brick, the run kept going. Cunningham threw his only assist of the night on a drive-and-lob to Alex Tew for a dunk, then Vartiainen put the game away with consecutive 3-pointers.

Robert Casey, WSU Athletics

Weber State's Viljami Vartiainen (8) drives past Northern Arizona's Rockwell Reynolds on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Ogden.

It was ultimately a 22-2 run in the space of only six minutes for a 68-44 lead, but that became a 35-8 run over the 14 minutes NAU went without a field goal. It was 81-50 before the Lumberjacks ended their drought, at which point the three seniors came out one by one to ovations from the crowd of 5,681 fans.

“We just kept getting stop after stop, we got in transition, the ball was really popping around,” Duft said.

Vartiainen finished with 11 points and Handje Tamba, who played 20 minutes with Tew in foul trouble, totaled seven points and six rebounds, hitting a free-throw line set shot late in the contest. In just 10 minutes, Tew was 2 of 2 from the field with four blocks and three steals.

Blaise Threatt added eight points and Dyson Koehler seven for WSU.

For Northern Arizona, McLaughlin finished with 13 points and Jayden Jackson scored 10. Center Carson Basham, who scored 33 points two days ago at Idaho State, finished with six points on 2-of-7 shooting.

Robert Casey, WSU Athletics

Weber State's Blaise Threatt (0) rises to shoot against Northern Arizona's Jayden Jackson (3) on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Ogden.

Weber State’s conference tournament seeding comes down to Monday night at Montana State, where a win gives WSU second place. The No. 2 seed would give WSU a first-round game against a lower seed on the second day of the tournament, then a day off before the semifinals. Seeds 3-6 potentially play on up to three consecutive days.

That regular-season finale is 7 p.m. Monday and will air on ESPNU.


Verplancken said he watched some of his highlights from playing Division II and at Southern Illinois, where he played before his two seasons at WSU, and spoke about how Weber State saved him, mentally, and kept him from quitting basketball.

“It’s been a journey,” he said. “You put so much into and (want to) enjoy it, and I come here and I have a coach that believes in me at times more than I believe in myself. To have the community show love … I’m grateful to be here.”

Verplancken has shot 40% from 3 at WSU, which currently gets him in the top 10 in the program record book.

Robert Casey, WSU Athletics

Weber State's Alex Tew, left, blocks Northern Arizona's Carson Basham (7) on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Ogden.

Cunningham appreciated the pre-game senior honors and the ovation when he checked out late in Saturday’s game.

“It’s very rewarding. Like I always say, it’s a blessing just to be able to play a game I love,” Cunningham said. “Playing in front of these fans, playing with my brothers … the community has been great.”

At 137 games and a few more left, Cunningham is WSU’s leader in career games played.


Jones is now 21 rebounds away from passing Weber State’s Willie Sojourner and Idaho State’s Steve Hayes to become the No. 2 career rebounder at both Weber State and in the Big Sky Conference. He’s already the school’s No. 5 in career points, No. 2 in assists, No. 1 in steals and No. 2 in made free throws.

Jones also needs six rebounds and six steals to be the only player in Division I men’s basketball since at least the 1992-93 season, per Sports-Reference, to total 600 or more points, 300 or more rebounds, 160 or more assists and 50 or more steals in one season.

WBB: NAU 73, WSU 41

Robert Casey, WSU Athletics

Weber State's Dillon Jones (2) scores against Nothern Arizona's Liam Lloyd, left, and Diego Campisano (12) while WSU's Handje Tamba (32) looks on in a game Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Ogden.

Weber State women’s basketball shot 5 of 31 for 14 second-half points in a sound defeat at Northern Arizona.

Weber State (7-23, 4-13 Big Sky) plays its senior game at 6 p.m. Monday hosting Montana State. The Wildcats shot 1 of 21 from distance Saturday. Daryn Hickok scored 20 points.

Weber State's Viljami Vartiainen (8) shoots a 3-pointer over Northern Arizona's Diego Campisano (12) on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Ogden.

Weber State's Dillon Jones (2) scores past Northern Arizona's Liam Lloyd on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Ogden.


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