Saturday , January 06, 2018 - 10:34 PM
Harding tied his career high in points with a game-high 31, and Braxton tied his career highs in points and rebounds with 22 and 13, respectively.
Head coach Randy Rahe’s biggest concern before the game was reproducing the same effort his team displayed Thursday against Northern Arizona with his “young and immature” team.
“We challenged them to maintain that, and we really did tonight,” Rahe said. “The guys had a great, competitive edge and great competitive spirit. We challenged them to guard this team, because this team is at or near the top of our league in every offensive category. They have a lot of talent.”
The Wildcats (9-6, 2-1 Big Sky) held the Thunderbirds (6-9, 0-4) to 10 points below their season average and to 37.1 percent shooting.
“I felt like tonight we had a lot of energy,” Harding said. “Shots were eventually going to fall, we just had to keep playing hard.”
Braxton lived in the paint, feeding off pick and rolls that led to four dunks. The Colorado native also had a career-high 10 makes at the free-throw line on 11 attempts.
“You don’t get dunks unless they’re throwing it down to you on the pick and roll,” Braxton said. “It was a dunk because they gave me a good pass. All the credit goes to (my teammates). For me, it’s just jumping up and putting it through the rim at that point.”
Weber State missed a slew of open 3s to start the game and was further limited by eight first-half turnovers.
Maintaining a single-digit lead, the Wildcats hit three consecutive 3-pointers to close the period on a 9-2 run and take a 43-32 halftime lead.
Senior guard Dusty Baker had seven of his season-high eight assists in the first half. The California native also had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Led by Brandon Better, who scored 25 points and was fouled on two 3-point attempts in the second half, Southern Utah chipped away at that lead and narrowed it to as little as three with 11:26 left.
That’s when shots started to drop for Weber State, fueled by a run from freshman Ricky Nelson. The Wildcats put together a 19-5 rally, during which Nelson scored eight points — including an and-one layup after taking on three defenders in the open court. It gave WSU a 76-59 lead with seven minutes to play.
“He’s a confident kid and we’ve sold out to give him more minutes,” Rahe said. “He’s my kind of guy. He’s a tough kid, he’s competitive, he likes to guard ... He’s got a little swagger to him. He believes he’s good, and I love that stuff about him.”
The Thunderbirds fought back and trimmed the lead to 78-68 with six minutes to play, but that’s as close it would get. Weber State went 9 of 10 from the free-throw line in last five minutes to seal the deal.
After a six-game homestand, the Wildcats now hit the road to face Northern Colorado (11-6, 2-2) and North Dakota (4-11, 0-4).
“There’s a lot of things we need to improve on,” Rahe added. “It’s going to be tough trip. Two really good teams. Two tough place to play. I’m excited to get out there. We had this nice little stretch at home. It’s time to go out there and see what we’re made of.”
Contact sports reporter Brandon Garside at [email protected], on Twitter @BrandonGarside and on Facebook.com/BrandonGarsideSE.
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