OGDEN — Jerrick Harding began the game 4 of 14 from the field and finished 0 of 8 from the 3-point line.
On some nights, that would spell doom for Weber State men's basketball. But Saturday, confidence from he and fellow senior Cody John drove the Wildcats to another convincing win over Southern Utah, an 82-71 victory at the Dee Events Center.
"Both those guys played with poise and composure. I saw it from the beginning, they were ready to go," WSU head coach Randy Rahe said. "They both had an air of confidence early. Even if Jerrick's ball isn't going in early, that doesn't sway him. They played with some swagger tonight and that stuff is contagious."
John led all scorers with 28 points and Harding finished with 22 on what could be characterized as an "off night" for him, but it was also their contagious confidence that rallied the Wildcats.
Despite tough shooting, Harding keyed the Weber State (11-16, 7-9) offense in the first half with five assists, including dishes to Dima Zdor for a dunk and Michal Kozak for an acrobatic layup.
That passing became infectious. Kham Davis, who finished with five assists, dished to Kozak for a 3 and John buried a trey after Tim Fuller grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it to the perimeter.
Harding then scored a pair of buckets to close the half and, suddenly, Weber led 39-27 at the break having assisted on 10 of 15 field goals.
And, after three ties and seven lead changes in the first 12 minutes, there were zero of either for the final 28.
While WSU mostly got what it wanted offensively for the second time against SUU (14-13, 7-9) — statistically the best defense in the Big Sky — the Wildcats' defense held its own as well.
After gaining the 39-27 advantage, the first half ended with Davis swatting a Dre Marin corner 3 attempt into the stands, then Fuller and Kozak stonewalling Cam Oluyitan on a drive at the buzzer.
"We worked really hard at being really physical," Rahe said. "The big guys staying disciplined, staying vertical and plugging the paint ... I thought we protected the rim well tonight."
Weber State's lead ballooned to 54-37 with 14:04 left when Harding was fouled on an up-and-under leaner.
It wasn't decided then, however. The Thunderbirds used separate runs of 8-0 and 7-0 to stay in the game, the final capped on a rare SUU 3 from Harrison Butler and a follow-dunk from John Knight III, the latter whose slashing offensive game kept the T-Birds afloat.
The tip-dunk made it 61-54 with 6:01 left but SUU could get no closer, even with WSU enduring a stretch of nearly six minutes without a field goal.
Free throws were key to that effort. John converted four freebies and Davis two during the drought. The Wildcats shot 19 of 21 from the foul line in the second half and 23 of 25 overall.
Weber State finally salted the game away with 1:32 left. Knight missed a shot in the paint and, as a battle ensued for the rebound, the ball squirted toward the perimeter. Harding pounced, shot down the floor and scooped in a layup while being fouled from behind by Knight. He converted the free throw and Weber led 74-64.
Kozak scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds to join John and Harding as top scorers. John pulled in eight rebounds and Fuller had seven, while Davis turned in an all-around effort of five points, four rebounds, five assists and two blocks.
Zdor finished with nine points and two blocks in 16 minutes off the bench, adding a measure of energy to his team's effort that also fed off an engaged crowd of 6,141 fans.
"It was fun to play. You could feel it. Everybody wanted to be on the court, it was our night for sure," Zdor said. "We brought a lot of energy and a we did a lot of good things."
Knight led SUU with 24 points and four steals. Andre Adams added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
While the win pushed Weber to seventh place, the Wildcats are now just one loss out of fourth place. Montana (17-10, 13-3) topped Montana State (14-13, 8-8) and Eastern Washington (19-8, 12-4) beat Northern Arizona (15-11, 9-8) on Saturday, separating those winners and Northern Colorado (19-8, 12-4) as a clear top three while a gaggle of teams vie for the final two tournament byes.
WSU is off until Saturday, Feb. 29, when it hosts Portland State (14-14, 8-8).