by Zachary Knecht
Featured Image: Photo by Weber State Athletics
Eastern Washington Weber State Preview
The Weber State Wildcats face their toughest challenge of the year, taking on the Big Sky undefeated Eastern Washington Eagles at the Dee Events Center. The ‘Cats come in as underdogs to the conference’s top team but aim to dethrone the Eagles before the end of the season.
The Wildcats (15-13) have had an impressive campaign in the Big Sky to this point (10-5), and it can become even more impressive if they take down the #1 seed. The Eagles (21-7) rolled through every opponent in the conference to get here (15-0), but playing on the road is never easy, especially against the third seed.
Weber State is an even 13-13-0 against the spread, while the Eagles typically cover at 17-9-1.
The late January matchup was hard fought between these teams. Eastern Washington got out to a 32-27 lead by half, but a 9-0 run out of the locker room gave Weber State the lead. The momentum only lasted a few more minutes, with the Wildcats’ final lead of the game coming with 11:53 left in the second half. It continued to be back and forth, but Weber State couldn’t pull through the get back their lead for the rest of the contest.
Dillon Jones and Steven Verplancken Jr. took over for the ‘Cats to keep them in the contest. They combined for 34 points, shooting 12 of 25 from the field and a perfect seven of seven from the free-throw line. They also had 11 of the team’s rebounds, dishing out six assists to get the ball in prime scoring positions. Junior Ballard found success with his 12 points as well. He was lethal from three, shooting three of five from range.
Angelo Allegri was the story of the night with his absolute masterclass on offense. The Eagle forward scored 28 points on ten of 12 shooting, including a whopping six of eight from three. He simply couldn’t be stopped, spelling doom for the Wildcats. Without his performance, Weber State likely runs away with the contest in the second half, but his dominance kept Eastern Washington above water at home.
Who to Watch
For the Wildcats, watch for Jones and Ballard. Jones is the face of this Weber State roster and has proven time and time again that he is ‘him.’ Without Jones, there is no telling where Weber State would be in the standings, but it most certainly wouldn’t be third. He needs to have a more efficient outing than last time, but he should find a better rhythm at home. After winning another Big Sky player of the week, he is slated to have such an outing.
Ballard, on the other hand, has been in quite the slump. He has been a non-factor in the last few games for the ‘Cats and has fallen off from his early-season success. If he can find his groove – as he did at Eastern Washington – there’s no telling how productive Weber State’s offense could be.
Though the Eagles possess a plethora of potent players – a main reason for their undefeated conference record – look out for Allegri. The star forward has been the team’s leading scorer against Big Sky opponents and was the piece that crushed Weber State in late January. The ‘Cats contained the rest of this roster, but they won’t come through with a W unless they can stop Allegri as well.
Defense Wins Championships
The defense was the fatal flaw for Weber State at Reese Court. Their offense kept them afloat, but their defense sent them home with the L. The Wildcats allowed Eastern Washington to shoot 51.9% from the field, 35.5% from three and were outrebounded 36-22. This performance was out of character for the second-ranked Big Sky defense (65.4 PPG). Weber State allows the third-least field goal percentage (43.7%) and tends to win the rebounding battle, with a 1.3 margin over opponents. The Eagles have been the better team this season, ranking first in field goal percentage (52.3%) – over 5% higher than any other team – and they have been more dominant in boards, ranking first in rebounds and opponent rebounds. They have been head-and-shoulders above their competition, but the Wildcats have all the potential to bring them down to Earth.
The Wildcats host the Eagles at 7 pm MST at the Dee Events Center.
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