OGDEN — After facing its three toughest opponents (on paper) of the 2018-19 season in succession, the frequency of games lightens for Weber State men’s basketball as conference play approaches in two weeks.
A stretch against BYU, Fresno State and Utah State leads Weber State (5-4) into this Saturday’s home contest against Utah Valley (7-4).
Weber State is 6-5 all-time against UVU. The series splits cleanly by location, with WSU going 6-0 in Ogden and UVU going 5-0 in Orem. Last year’s meeting in Orem was a 27-point drubbing at the paws of the Wolverines.
“We were a mess down there. Zach (Braxton) got hurt, Brekkott (Chapman) got hurt, all of a sudden we’re playing different guys and we were just a mess,” head coach Randy Rahe said. “And they beat the heck out of us, no matter what had happened.
“The kids remember that, they sure want to play a lot better Saturday night, there’s no question. We don’t really have to talk about it, they know it.”
UVU lost early to BYU (by 10), Saint Mary’s (by 29) and to Utah State (by 19), but has won six of its last seven, most recently a 20-point road win at Northern Arizona.
Mark Pope has Utah Valley’s roster more transitory than some with a flow of junior college and graduate transfers, but the Wolverines are consistent in style and are led by cousins Conner Toolson (a senior) and Jake Toolson (a junior).
“They’re going to play fast, run it in transition. They’re a very aggressive team,” Rahe said. “They have a good skill level. They’re a similar-looking team, in a lot of ways, to Utah State or BYU in that they have good skill, they can shoot the ball, they can mix in an athletic lineup.”
The Toolsons lead a dead-eye shooting lineup, which is UVU’s strength to this point. The Wolverines shoot 40.7 percent from 3 against Division-I opponents, 14th-best in the country. Jake Toolson, a transfer from BYU, shoots 48.9 percent from deep and averages 15.2 points per game.
Conner Toolson, a transfer from Salt Lake Community College, averages 15.1 points per contest and shoots 40.6 percent from 3. TJ Washington, another junior college transfer, shoots 44 percent from 3 and scores 9.4 points per game.
Shooting from behind the arc is one of two strength-versus-strength matchups Saturday. Weber gives up a modest 35 percent 3-point shooting to opponents but is again one of the country’s best in limiting attempts. Only 28.5 percent of WSU opponents’ field goal attempts come from behind the arc, fifth-best nationally.
Weber State’s free-throw rate is top-40 nationally, while UVU’s free-throw rate defense (how often opponents shoot free throws) is top-80.
With only two games left before a 20-game Big Sky schedule begins, Rahe said he, like most coaches at this time of the year, most wants his team to refine its consistency.
“We’re starting to get it, so now it’s time to stretch it out,” Rahe said. “We’ve shown really good signs of playing really good basketball in pockets, maybe 25-28 minutes, but then we’ll have a 10-13 minute stretch where it’s just not as good.
“We’re not playing as good as we need to play right now … and I’m excited about that. We’ve got a lot of room to grow.”
Saturday’s game tips off at 7 p.m. at the Dee Events Center. A TV broadcast will air on KJZZ in Utah, which will also be streamed on WatchBigSky.com and on the Pluto TV app channel 235. A radio call with Steve Klauke and David Patten will air on 1430 AM KLO.