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High hopes in peril for Wildcats

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OGDEN — Before last weekend's trip to Montana and Montana State, Joe Cravens outlined a blueprint for success. It was a simple plan. All his Weber State Wildcats needed to do was play 80 minutes of great basketball.

A tough standard? Yes, but the coach nearly got what he wanted.

The quest, however, hit a snag just six minutes from completion. That's when Montana State threw a monkey wrench into the works and rallied past Weber State. The loss, which followed a victory over Montana 24 hours earlier, dropped the Wildcats to 3-3 in Big Sky play. With just eight games remaining, it's unlikely they'll live up to preseason projections and finish first in the league. And since the winner hosts the conference tournament, Weber State's NCAA hopes may also be in peril.

Such thoughts, though, aren't foremost on the minds of Cravens and his team. The Wildcats are in a defensive mode. Offensive-minded Eastern Washington and Portland State visit Ogden Friday and Saturday, respectively, in Weber State's final home games until a March 2 date with Idaho State. The Dee Events Center will be out of commission in February while the facility is used as a media center for the nearby Winter Olympic curling venue. During the Games, Weber State will play five straight Big Sky contests on the road.

"We need to refocus ourselves this weekend," said Cravens. "These are two of the most explosive teams in the league, so we will concentrate on the defensive end this week."

EWU (8-9, 2-1) leads the conference in scoring with 82.7 points per game and is connecting on an impressive 54 percent of its shots. Though the Eagles have fallen on inconsistent times since, they did open the season with a 68-67 upset of nationally ranked St. Joseph's. Later in the preseason, EWU dropped an overtime decision at highly touted Gonzaga.

"They have all the elements for success. They can shoot, pass, rebound and defend," Cravens said, while noting their depth. "They have come in here and beat us good the last two seasons, and I expect another very physical game."

On Saturday, Portland State (6-10, 0-3) presents its own set of challenges. The Vikings are another potential threat. They've won games at Boise State and Arizona State this season.

"This is a team which at any time can just explode on you," said Cravens.

NOTEBOOK: Both of this weekend's games are slated for 7 p.m. and can be heard on KLO, 1430 AM . . . The Wildcats have been hit with 111 personal fouls over their past four games . . . Weber State leads the all-time series with both EWU (24-11) and PSU (10-4) . . . Jermaine Boyette tops the 'Cats in scoring with 15.9 ppg . . . Chris Woods is the leading rebounder with a 6.6 average.

E-MAIL: dirk@desnews.com