WSU seniors not backing down for Bracketbuster

Feb 17 2012 - 10:49pm

Images

(NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner)
Weber State forwards Darin Mahoney (30) and Kyle Bullinger (3) react after Mahoney dunked against Eastern Washington at the Dee Events Center in Ogden last Saturday. Mahoney and Bullinger are both seniors and will be honored at tonight’s game versus Texas-Arlington.
(NICHOLAS DRANEY/Standard-Examiner)
Weber State forwards Darin Mahoney (30) and Kyle Bullinger (3) react after Mahoney dunked against Eastern Washington at the Dee Events Center in Ogden last Saturday. Mahoney and Bullinger are both seniors and will be honored at tonight’s game versus Texas-Arlington.

OGDEN -- As they step away from the Big Sky Conference battles looming ahead, the Wildcats will take a moment to reflect and honor two pillars of the Weber State program tonight on Senior Night.

When WSU's Bracketbusters tip-off goes up against UT Arlington at 6 p.m. at the Dee Events Center, however, there will be no time for relaxation or reflection for senior forwards Darin Mahoney and Kyle Bullinger or anybody else.

The Mavericks (20-5, 12-0 Southland) are one of the hottest teams in the country, winners of 16 consecutive games.

Arlington is led by 6-foot-5 senior forward LaMarcus Reed (16.8 ppg). The future Western Athletic Conference team boasts the second-longest streak in Division I, one win behind Kentucky.

Weber State is rolling too, having won five in a row, 15 of its last 16 and 15 straight at home.

Tonight's Bracketbusters contest won't affect Weber State's NCAA Tournament chances -- that will be determined by the league tournament -- but it could affect seeding if the Wildcats (21-4, 13-1 Big Sky) reach the Big Dance.

It could also be the Wildcats' final game this year at the Dee Events Center, pending the Feb. 28 showdown at Montana to determine whether the site of the league tourney will be in Ogden or Missoula, Mont.

Weber State coach Randy Rahe said when he took the reins at WSU six years ago, he wanted to build his teams with players like Bullinger and Mahoney.

"They are the epitome of everything we want our program to be about," he said. "Bull was one of our first recruits. Darin was already recruited here but when he got back (from an LDS mission to Tokyo) he was one of the first guys we had. They are absolute poster children for our program and what we want it to stand for: Good players, great kids, tough, competitive, unselfish. They embody winning with all those traits.

"It's really hard to see them go. ... I'm not sure I've coached two better guys in my 22 years."

Mahoney, a 6-8 forward from Heber City, first committed to WSU while at Wasatch High in 2003. After his mission, he redshirted in 2007-08 and has played 116 career games, starting 49 times, and ranks third all-time in blocks and 22nd in rebounds. His 311 blocks as a high schooler trail only Shawn Bradley in Utah history.

Looking back at each WSU team he's been a part of, "I still kind of play the same role," he said. "I'm more of an energy guy, a defensive guy. Every year, that's what the team's needed me to do, how I could help the team. I've just become more efficient at it, become more of a leader over my time."

Bullinger, a 6-foot-6 forward from Mountain View, Wyo., was an all-Big Sky first-teamer as a junior and is four points away from 1,000 for his career. He ranks fifth in school history in 3-pointers, 15th in rebounds and has started 105 of 110 career games.

Bullinger is proud of Weber State's three Big Sky championships and of being in the title chase down to the last week in each season he's played.

It's been an eventful season for Bullinger, who was injured in an off-road accident before the season, married in September and dislocated his elbow in December and missed nine games.

"I would have loved to have been completely healthy this year and if things had gone that way, I wouldn't have complained, but that's life," he said.

"Our goal never changed. The road that you take to get there is sometimes not exactly the road that you preferred, but here we are, a week and a half left in the season and we have a chance to achieve the same goal we set prior to the injury, prior to the accident. That's ultimately what matters. It's been a great run here at Weber State and I've got nothing I would change about it."

There's one more Wildcat who could potentially be playing his final game in Ogden, though he'd love to make sure the Big Sky tournament comes back to the Dee Events Center. Weber State standout point guard Damian Lillard would have been a senior, if not for a broken foot and a medical redshirt last year that set him back a season.

The 6-foot-2 junior from Oakland, Calif., is the clear leader for what should be his second Big Sky MVP award. Lillard is tied for the NCAA scoring lead (24.8 ppg) and will have a decision to make after the season about the leaving school for the NBA draft.

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