Weber State (18-4) at Northern Arizona (5-19)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, February 9th, 8:35 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Rolle Activity Center (900) -- Flagstaff, Arizona. Television: NAU-TV, Big Sky TV. Home Record: WSU 13-0, NAU 4-6. Away Record: WSU 4-4, NAU 1-10. Neutral Record: WSU 1-0, NAU 0-3. Conference Record: WSU 10-1, NAU 1-11. Series Record: Weber State leads, 68-26.
GAME NOTES: One of the most exciting players in college basketball that most people don't know about takes the floor in Arizona tonight, as Damian Lillard and the Weber State Wildcats clash with the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks in Big Sky Conference action.
Lillard has been lighting up the scoreboard all season long and until this past weekend, he had been the only player at the Division I level to have two games in which he scored at least 40 points. The top scorer in the nation with 25.5 ppg, Lillard has guided the Wildcats to the top of the Big Sky standings with a 10-1 record, tied with Montana at the moment. Last Saturday, the Wildcats dialed up their second win in a row and the 12th in the last 13 outings with a 93-81 triumph over Northern Colorado.
As for the Lumberjacks, they've been simply awful in 2011-12, winning a total of five games, two of which came against Arizona Christian and Northern New Mexico early on in the campaign. More recently, the team suffered a 76-65 loss to Portland State last Saturday, the 11th setback in a row for NAU as it sits alone in last place in the Big Sky with a league ledger of just 1-11.
Northern Arizona holds a 25-19 advantage in games played in Flagstaff in this series, but overall the Lumberjacks are struggling to keep up as they trail WSU by a count of 68-26 overall. The Wildcats won the first meeting of the season in late December with a 78-64 decision in Ogden to run their win streak to nine in a row in the series.
It was another outstanding game for Lillard against Northern Colorado last Saturday as he dropped in a game-high 35 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the floor, including 5-of-9 behind the three-point line. Scott Bamforth pitched in with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists, while reserves Gelaun Wheelwright and Byron Fulton checked in with 11 and 10 points, respectively, as the team shot 53.3 percent from the floor and turned the ball over a mere six times. Obviously this is a team that follows the example set by Lillard who is shooting an outstanding 46.3 percent behind the three-point line and has also found time to hand out a team-best 84 assists and clear 5.4 rpg which is also one of the top marks on WSU. But once defenses get focused on clamping down on Lillard, that's when Bamforth makes his move, opening the door for him to generate 15.7 ppg as he makes good on 42.3 percent beyond the arc, so really opponents are having to pick their poison at this point.
Against Portland State at home last weekend, NAU had four players score in double figures, but with just seven players total getting into the scoring column it wasn't nearly enough to keep the 'Jacks from suffering yet another loss. Ephraim Ekanem was responsible for 14 points and eight rebounds, followed by James Douglas and Gaellan Bewernick who both tallied 12 points, the latter adding 10 rebounds but also turning the ball over six times. In 36 minutes of work Michael Dunn tacked on 11 points and seven boards of his own. After 24 games Douglas, who has come off the bench in seven of those outings, is the lone double-digit scorer for the Lumberjacks with his 12.5 ppg, thanks to his 41.0 percent accuracy behind the three-point line which is considerably higher than the team's combined mark of 32.9 percent at the moment. At the defensive end, NAU is averaging just two blocked shots per game, not only ranking the team last in the league but also 312th in the country.
If Lillard can get into the lane and have his way against a non-existent interior defense then this game could get ugly. However, assume that once the outcome has been determined the Wildcats will call off the dogs.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Weber State 79, Northern Arizona 61
02/09 10:34:11 ET