OGDEN, Utah -- Weber State had something to prove after losing its top player. No. 23 BYU needed to show it could bounce back after a tough defeat at UCLA.
The result was a tight game that went down to the wire Tuesday night between the in-state rivals, with the Cougars escaping for a 72-66 victory before a crowd of 10,453.
"The guys gutted it out," said BYU coach Dave Rose, who saw his team shoot just 37.3 percent. "I was really pleased with how we competed and were able to come up with a big win."
The game was supposed to feature a marquee matchup of point guards, with two NBA scouts on hand to watch BYU preseason All-American Jimmer Fredette and Weber State star Damian Lillard. But Lillard, who was leading the Big Sky Conference in scoring at 21.5 points a game, sustained a season-ending foot injury last week and is scheduled to undergo surgery Sunday.
Still, the Wildcats (6-5) refused to give in.
They fought back from a 16-point second-half deficit and pulled within 67-63 with 2:30 remaining on a 3-pointer by Scott Bamforth, who moved into the starting lineup after Lillard's injury.
But that's as close as Weber State got.
Noah Hartsock's putback bumped BYU's lead back to six points and Fredette hit two free throws with 11.8 seconds left to seal it for BYU (11-1), which faces UTEP on Thursday in its first home game since Nov. 23.
"We knew they would continue to fight," said Fredette, who had 28 points, including 20 in the second half, and five 3-pointers. "They never give up. That's what we expected."
The Wildcats were down by 17 in the first half and then 53-37 with 12:23 remaining.
When Fredette was called for an offensive foul with 44 seconds left, Weber State had a chance to cut it to a single possession. But Byron Fulton was called for traveling and Jackson Emery's free throw pushed BYU's lead to six.
Bullinger's driving layup with 12 seconds left pulled Weber State within 70-66, but Fredette was fouled immediately and made both free throws for the final margin.
"We got down in the first half and could have given up," said Weber State's Darin Mahoney, who had a career-high five blocks. "We showed our toughness as a team and our togetherness. We wanted to prove we are still a good team. Yes, it was tough for us to lose [Lillard], but he's still around and helping us [from the bench]. It showed the strength of our team."
Bamforth, who moved to point guard after Lillard's injury, led Weber State with 17 points.
Mahoney and B.J. Porter set the tone from the beginning. Mahoney had two blocks in the first 4 minutes and Porter blocked Emery's shot from behind during a Cougars fast break.
But BYU grabbed the offensive rebound and scored for an 11-7 lead. From there, BYU went on an 11-4 run, capped by Fredette's 3-pointer, to take a 22-11 lead with 7:51 left in the half. BYU led 35-23 at halftime.
Fredette scored eight points in a 10-0 BYU run in the second half. He also hit a big 3-pointer after Weber State cut it to 55-48 with 9 minutes remaining, and his driving layup and three-point play with 2:45 left were key down the stretch.
"Both teams had chances. We had a chance to put it away early. They had a chance to come back," Fredette said. "We were still able to get the win. That's what a good team does."