Damian Lillard wasn’t exactly an unknown in college. His final year, the All-American had Dick Vitale screaming his name to Dan Shulman and was a mock draft darling.
But playing at Weber State obviously kept him out of the national spotlight he enjoys now as one of the world’s best players. With Dame’s season likely to come to a close on Wednesday night, let’s look back at some of the performances that first sparked the pull-up-from-the-logo sensation that would win Rookie of the Year, make All-NBA teams and take the Orlando bubble by storm.
March 3, 2009 at Montana State
27 points (8-13 FG, 5-7 3FG), 7 assists
Weber State barreled through the Big Sky in the 2008-09 season behind diminutive senior guard Kellen McCoy, who capped off a big-time career with a conference player of the year season. It culminated with the Wildcats carrying an 11-game winning streak into their final regular season game at Montana State. With the title already wrapped up, all that was left on the table was avenging their lone conference loss, which came at the hands of the Bobcats in Ogden nearly two months prior.
Their star freshman guard ensured the Wildcats got that sweet vengeance. Lillard, the Big Sky’s Freshman of the Year and all-league first teamer, dropped in a then-career high 27 points in a blowout win over MSU. It was just the second time Lillard cracked 20 points in his debut season, and he scored the Wildcats’ first 12 points after the break to put the game, and an incredible regular season, to bed.
December 2, 2009 vs. Utah
28 points (9-17 FG, 9-9 FT), 7 assists
The Wildcats had a clunker of a start to Lillard’s much anticipated sophomore season. A close opening night loss in Ogden to a very good Utah State team preceded a pair of losses in winnable road games at UC Santa Barbara and Seattle. WSU found itself at 1-4 heading into a game against Utah in early December, which presented another crack at a marquee win on their home floor.
Lillard led the Wildcats to a big second half, hitting a jumper with just under three minutes left to give WSU a two-point lead. After an empty Utes possession, he then drilled a three pointer and would score four more points down the stretch to stick a dagger in a big in-state rival. The then-sophomore star scored a then-career high 28 points in the win, and helped WSU end what was then an eight-game losing streak to Utah. In hindsight, the win also acted as somewhat of a turning point. The Wildcats would lose just five more times the rest of the way, finishing the regular season 19-9 with a second consecutive Big Sky title.
December 3, 2011 vs. San Jose State
41 points (13-21 FG, 6-11 3FG), 8 rebounds, 4 assists
The peak, waving-bye-to-OKC Dame may not have showed up more in college than against San Jose State in the 2011-12 season. The Wildcats came up against the Spartans just a handful of games into Lillard’s redshirt junior campaign. It was a bounce back season for the star point guard, who had missed all but nine games of the previous year after breaking a bone in his right foot in a December game against Tulsa.
The Wildcat icon had already proven he was back and better than ever. Lillard poured in 27 points in a win at UC Irvine and 36 points in a loss to a Saint Mary’s team that would go on to win the WCC regular season and tournament titles. That led into the home game against SJSU, where Lillard would play the leading role in a double overtime thriller.
“I’m the leader of the team and I felt like it’s my fourth year here and if anybody was going to be the one to say, let’s go, we need to pick it up and there’s a big shot that needs to be made, a block or steal or anything, I should be the one to do it,” he said in the postgame press conference.
And he sure had. The redshirt junior scored a career high 41 points, drilling a three pointer late in regulation to send the game to overtime. He then scored 17 points over the two extra periods, including singlehandedly evening up a four-point deficit late in the first overtime.
February 2, 2012 vs. Portland State
40 points (13-18 FG, 6-8 3FG), 5 assists
Lillard was the stuff of nightmares for Portland State in 2012. The Big Sky star tormented the Viks as WSU picked up a clean three-game sweep against a good PSU team. That involved a 38-point outburst in Portland in early January, as well as 22 points to knock the Viks out of the Big Sky tournament. Sandwiched in between was a league career high 40 points in a February home win over PSU.
The outing was especially important since it followed a heartbreaking loss to Idaho State at the buzzer that had put WSU in a slight hole in a fierce regular season title race with Wayne Tinkle-led Montana. Not only was Lillard as efficient as ever, he took over the game in the second half, at one point scoring 15 of the WSU’s 19 points. The 14-2 Wildcats would ultimately come up one game short to Montana and fall to the Grizzlies in the league tournament, but Lillard’s dominance of PSU was yet another flash of college brilliance.