Unorthodox travel awaits Weber State basketball on first Big Sky road trip

Thursday , January 11, 2018 - 5:15 AM

BRANDON GARSIDE, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — After two dominant wins, Weber State will be put to the test with its first Big Sky Conference road trip to face Northern Colorado and North Dakota.

Weber State hasn’t played away from the Dee Events Center since Dec. 9 and hasn’t played a true road game since Dec. 6.

“Winning road games, especially against teams in the middle to upper half of the league, is going to be a great challenge, and one we’re really excited for,” WSU head coach Randy Rahe said. “We’re going to try and embrace it, and we’re going to go out there and play our tails off and see what we can do.”

The Wildcats’ (9-6, 2-1 Big Sky) first stop will be to Greeley, Colorado, to take on the Bears on Thursday — their toughest conference opponent yet.

Northern Colorado (11-6, 2-2) may have dropped both road games last week to Montana and Montana State, but the team touts an impressive non-conference resume, including wins at South Dakota and Wyoming, and a narrow loss at UNLV.

At home, the Bears have only one loss and average 87.3 points per game.

They shoot only 33.9 percent from deep, eighth-best in the Big Sky, but take the most 3s in the conference, leading to a second-best 9.1 makes per game.

“The way they get a lot of those 3s is by getting into the paint, get you to help, kick out, no rotation type 3s,” Rahe said. “They’re hard to guard. They’re highly aggressive. They’re very fast. They’re not overly big. They play small lineups and they really attack you off the bounce and then get 3s out of it.”

Rahe’s keys to the game are stopping transition offense and keeping the ball outside of the paint.

North Dakota (4-11, 0-4) has not won a game since late November, but nearly grabbed an upset win in the midst of their current eight-game losing streak. UND led by as many as 12 points in the second half against No. 15 Gonzaga before the Bulldogs came back to force overtime and win the game 89-83.

Through four games of conference play, the Hawks have been poor on both ends of the floor. They sport the third-worst effective field goal percentage at 47.8 percent and a defensive effective field goal percentage of 61.6 percent, second-worst in the Big Sky.

Travel and game time will be a factor the Wildcats. After leaving Colorado, Friday will be a long day slowed by limited flights and bus rides that will put the team in Grand Forks in the late afternoon or early evening. WSU will practice that night, then play Saturday afternoon as North Dakota’s hockey team will play in the same arena that night.

“We don’t worry about all that stuff. We get there, we go get ready, we get our mind right, we go compete,” Rahe said, “That’s what we’re going to do, but it’s obviously difficult. You’ve got to make sure you keep your energy up. That’s what makes it difficult.”

It’s the last time the Wildcats will travel to Grand Forks for a conference game. North Dakota leaves after this season to compete in the Summit League.

The action begins Thursday night at 7 p.m. MST against Northern Colorado. Saturday’s game tips at 1 p.m. MST. Both games will be streamed live on PlutoTV and WatchBigSky.com. Steve Klauke will have a play-by-play call on 1430 AM KLO.

Contact sports reporter Brandon Garside at bgarside@standard.net, on Twitter @BrandonGarside and on Facebook.com/BrandonGarsideSE.

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