OGDEN — Weber State men’s basketball has used the same starting lineup for the last four games.
All things equal, that fact seems like a so-what byproduct of competent coaching. In most sports, it’s common for a team to identify its best players, put them on the court or field first, finish the game with them and, barring unusual matchup situations, give that unit the most minutes in between.
But in the 20 games prior, Weber State head coach Randy Rahe had used 14 different starting lineups.
Coincidentally, WSU (10-14, 6-7 Big Sky) has won four of its last five games. That fifth game saw Kham Davis come off the bench and play starter minutes in an overtime win over Montana and, ever since, it’s been — one through five — Jerrick Harding, Cody John, Davis, Michal Kozak and Tim Fuller.
The reasons for the different lineups are well-documented but, in summary, injuries to Harding, Davis and Donatas Kupsas were the impetus for much of the inconsistency.
Sophomore big man Dima Zdor also spent time out of the rotation but has “cleared his head,” Rahe says, and has played between 13 and 16 minutes off the bench in each of the last seven games. He totaled six points and seven rebounds in Saturday’s win over Northern Arizona and, in the game before that, blocked four shots against Sacramento State.
Zdor, KJ Cunningham and Israel Barnes now round out WSU’s usual rotation after the starting five.
“It’s the lineup I wanted to have, minus how (Kupsas) fit in, but we’ve had so much fluctuation with guys hurt and not sure who we’d have,” Rahe said. “We’re able to now get our starting lineup set, get our rotations off the bench set.
“I told our staff, it’s February whatever but this is the first time we’ve got everyone together so now we can start to get better. We couldn’t get better through December into January, we had too many moving parts. So we have a starting lineup, guys know their roles, and we’re starting to get better.”
The new lineup features more size than previous iterations which saw Kozak playing center and Davis playing forward, making both the backcourt and frontcourt smaller than how WSU now plays.
Regardless of those facts, Rahe continues to praise his team’s work ethic.
“I’m happy for these kids because they come to work no matter what — close loss, guys in and out, whatever, they just come to work every day. That’s what we had to preach early on is to keep working and the results would come,” he said. “They’ve really done that so far, and they’ve developed some toughness.”
An overtime home victory over Montana is one of two top wins for Weber State this season, along with a road beating of Southern Utah.
The Big Sky-leading Griz (14-10, 10-3) are again accustomed to winning. After surviving several close games early, Montana has come out of consecutive losses against WSU and Portland State with vigor, plowing through Montana State (14-point win), Eastern Washington (10-point win) and Idaho (11-point win) in its last three contests while averaging 84 points.
The Griz shoot the 3 well but don’t shoot it as often as other teams. A low turnover rate and good shooting across the board, however, make Montana the most efficient offense in the Big Sky during conference play.
Seniors Sayeed Pridgett (19.3 points per game) and Kendal Manuel (15.1) continue to lead Montana in scoring. Pridgett also leads his team in rebounding (7.3 per game) and assists (3.6).
Weber State tips off against Montana at 7 p.m. Thursday. WSU is 23-38 all-time in Missoula.
While Montana will have revenge on its mind in hosting WSU, the Wildcats have a chance to get back a game they felt slipped through their fingers in a rematch with Montana State.
On Jan. 23 in Ogden, Weber led by 13 with 16 minutes left but the Bobcats ultimately won 62-61 on a shot at the rim in the final seconds.
MSU (12-11, 6-6) has been consistently inconsistent. Only one of its six conference wins is against a team .500 or better in Big Sky play (for comparison, three of Weber’s six wins are against above-.500 teams). In conference games, the Bobcats are 3-2 at home and 3-4 on the road.
MSU has played just one home game in nearly a calendar month, however, and returns home hopeful to put away a 74-49 beating at the hands of Eastern Washington.
Senior guard Harald Frey continues to make the Bobcats go, averaging 17.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. Eastern managed to hold Frey to four points on five shot attempts.
Jubrile Belo and Devin Kirby, a front court combo that made its conference debut against WSU previously, combine to average 16 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.
WSU tips off against Montana State at 6 p.m. Saturday. The Wildcats are 31-28 all-time in Bozeman.