OGDEN — As Weber State men’s basketball got to the back end of its non-conference schedule, it hit three losses against a stretch of tough opponents.
On the road at Fresno State, a neutral-site game against Utah State and at home against Utah Valley all produced fairly convincing defeats. But even with the tough schedule, something looked off with the Wildcats.
The stretch came after and directly contrasted a 113-103 win over BYU. WSU shot 53 percent from the field and assisted 16 of 37 makes (43 percent) against BYU but failed to score 30 points in three consecutive first halves after.
And in those three losses that followed, WSU assisted less field goals than in the BYU win alone: 14 of 63 makes (22 percent). Players appeared to use the high-tempo offense to rush into poor, contested shots instead of forcing defenses to make decisions and working for open looks.
So Saturday’s performance against Delaware State was a breath of life for Weber State’s offense.
A stretch of plays nearly in succession illustrated the difference in the second half. Brekkott Chapman took a pass in the post, threw a no-looker to Jerrick Harding at the top of the key and Harding immediately swung the ball to Cody John in the corner. John missed the open 3, but the process was good.
Not soon after, Chapman used a pump fake to penetrate the defense on the dribble, then kicked it out to Harding for a made 3-pointer. Chapman then grabbed a defensive rebound and fired an outlet to John, who threw ahead to Michal Kozak in stride for a transition layup.
The Wildcats scored 83 points and shot 45 percent from the field. They assisted on 14 of 26 makes (54 percent).
For a coach, it must’ve felt like a religious experience. Postgame, Randy Rahe turned an answer about Chapman’s recent surge into a basketball sermon about his team’s conversion told to a congregation of three in the media room.
“His mind wasn’t right where it needed to be. So I grabbed him and told him, ‘You need to practice better, you need to be more prepared to practice. And if you do, you’re going to play better,’” Rahe told Chapman, who has since averaged 15.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and three blocks in the last three games.
“He took it to heart and has been practicing really well and been showing really good leadership.”
The sermon continued — not an impassioned pounding of a pulpit, but a distillation of knowledge gained while coaching a team to 11 winning campaigns in 12 seasons.
“(Chapman) has really given up himself for the team with his voice, with his energy in practice. When you do that, you play well. This game … you don’t need magic dust or a magic wand or a magic pill,” Rahe said. “You have to respect the game, and the No. 1 way you respect it is play for your teammates, play with energy, play with toughness for your teammates, and then you play well.
“But guys are 18-21 years old. Every once in a while, they fall into the disease of ‘me’ because they’re 18-21. Our job is to snap them out of it. And that’s what we did this week with our team. That’s why Brekkott has been playing so well, he’s given up himself for the team. When you do that, you’ve got more energy, you’ve got more confidence, you play freer.
“Pretty simple, right?” he asked wryly.
It was the basketball version of Jesus’ New Testament teaching “whosoever will lose his life ... shall find it.”
Rahe says the Wildcats can now enter Big Sky Conference play with a clear team philosophy.
“Our team now understands that we’re going to play for each other, we’re going to get out of our own way, and because of that, now we can really start to move forward. That’s what I feel good about,” he said Saturday.
“That’s going to be who we are now: playing for our teammates, caring for them, and then we’re going to coach them really hard to get better. Then we’ve got a chance to do some good things.”
The conference schedule begins with a road trip to Eastern Washington on Dec. 29 and Idaho on Dec. 31. Both games tip at 3 p.m. All Big Sky Conference games stream live on WatchBigSky.com and on the Pluto TV app, channels 230-249.