Utes hope to keep momentum going against Weber State

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

The Runnin’ Utes should be pretty familiar with the opposition tonight when they take the floor against in-state rival Weber State. The Wildcats run an offense similar to the U’s and have a recognizable face at the helm. Head coach Randy Rahe is in his first year at Weber State after spending the past two seasons under head coach Ray Giacoletti at Utah.

“Randy has done an excellent job with his team this year,” Giacoletti said. “He’s got his guys buying into the system; and they’re a good team. It’s never any fun to play against someone you care about, and this is one of those situations.”

Weber State (4-2) started its season off at the Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska, and proved to be a formidable foe throughout. The Wildcats squeezed out an overtime victory against Alaska-Fairbanks in the first round of the tournament, then narrowly defeated Troy to advance to the championship. But that’s where the tournament run ended for Weber State, as the ‘Cats were unable to stop Utah State’s perimeter offense on their way to a 68-55 defeat.

The Wildcats bounced back from the loss by abusing Montana Tech 81-53, but once again fell to Utah State last Saturday in Logan, 77-68.

Arturas Valeika led the Wildcats against the Aggies with 16 points and five rebounds and has been the driving force behind Weber State’s dominating low-post play this season. The 6-foot-9 center is second on the team in scoring (10.8 points per game) and leads the team in rebounding (7.0 rebounds per game).

“They have a legitimate low-post threat in Arturas,” Giacoletti said. “We know quite a bit about him, and he presents some challenges.”

Starring opposite Valeika in the frontcourt and leading the team with 12.3 points per game is forward David Patten. The senior also ranks second on the team with 4.7 rebounds per game.

The Weber State backcourt features one of the best shooting guards in the Big-Sky in Juan Pablo Silveira. The sophomore leads the team in assists (3.2 assists per game), is third in scoring (10.5 points per game) and leads his conference in three-point percentage, shooting a whopping 65.3 percent from beyond the arc.

“Juan Pablo can really shoot the basketball,” Giacoletti said. “I don’t care how many games you have played, if you are shooting 65 percent from the three-point line, that is pretty impressive.”

Meanwhile, the Utes are coming off their best defensive performance of the year against Rice University last Saturday. Utah overcame a nine-point deficit at halftime to come back and snag its first win of the year, 80-64.

Johnnie Bryant led the Utes with 28 points against the Owls and has slowly progressed into Utah’s go-to man this season. The junior shooting guard is currently fifth in the Mountain West Conference with 18.3 points and 3.0 assists per game.

Bryant is looking forward to the meeting with his old coach, who also happened to be the main reason the junior came to Utah.

“It’s going to be pretty odd to see Randy over there (on Weber State’s sideline), because he was a great coach while he was here,” Bryant said. “Now he’s the enemy, though, so we have to come out ready to play.”

Christopher Peddecord

Luke Nevill attempts a lay-up in Saturday’s home win over Rice University. Hoping to build momentum in the season, the Utes square off with Weber State tonight at the Huntsman Center at 8 p.m.