WAC Quarterfinal Recap & Semifinal PreviewPosted by nvr1983 on March 13th, 2009
Note: Rush the Court will be live-blogging tonight’s WAC Semifinals, which starts at 8:30 PM ET.
The quarterfinals of the 2009 WAC Tournament are in the books and the league’s top two seeded teams–Utah State and Nevada–advanced. The #3 and #4 seeds Idaho and Boise State? Not nearly as fortunate. Each session brought its own upset as in the tournament’s first game #5 seed New Mexico State upended #4 seed Boise State. The Broncos had won the first two meetings of the season and were looking to make it three straight and looked to be off to a good start when they built a 30-20 lead midway through the first half. However, New Mexico State found its shot and took a 38-36 lead into the break. Boise State tied the game at 38 apiece less than a minute into the game after a pair of made free throws but that’s as close as they would get the rest of the way. Spurred by an 8-0 run, New Mexico State seized control of the game and timely free throws and a second half barrage of three pointers by junior guard Jonathan Gibson helped the Aggies to advance to the semifinals. Gibson finished with a team high 22 points for the Aggies. Boise State was led by Mark Sanchez who scored a game high 25 points. In all four Aggies finished with double figures in scoring while three Broncos achieved that mark. Boise State finishes the season at 19-12 and will await their postseason fate. The Aggies improve to 17-14 and will face top seed Utah State at 6:00 p.m. PT.
In the first session’s second game the regular season champion Utah State took on #9 seed Fresno State. Most Aggie fans approached this game with a bit of guarded optimism not normally seen in a 1 vs. 9 matchup. However, there was due cause for their concern as Fresno State had pushed Utah State to the brink in both regular season meetings. The Bulldogs had lost by just four in the always tough Dee Glenn Smith Spectrum in Logan and then later took Utah State to overtime before eventually losing. After Fresno State escaped the 8/9 play-in game against Hawai’i, they looked to spring the upset. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the Aggies had different plans. Utah State jumped out to a 16-3 lead and never looked back. Utah State hit a season high 13 three pointers en route to an 85-68 victory. Utah State’s Stavon Williams finished with 22 points on 8-11 shooting including 6-8 from three point distance. Gary Wilkinson and Jared Quayle each pitched in 18 for the Aggies. Fresno State had four players reach double figures led by freshman Paul George with 16. Senior Dwight O’Neil, playing in his final game scored 14 points. Utah State rekindles their rivalry with New Mexico State in the first semifinal game at 6:00 p.m. PT.
The second session’s first game featured the #2 seed, tournament host Nevada, taking on the #7 seed San Jose State. The Wolf Pack built a six point lead heading into halftime at 37-31. Nevada extended the lead to 10 points at 48-38 with 15:45 remaining in the game but San Jose State would cut the lead to 50-49 over the next four minutes. However, just as quickly as the lead had shrunk, the Wolf Pack exploded to push the lead back up to nine at 58-49. San Jose State would be unable to mount a comeback as Nevada would go up by as many as 13 points and would go on to win by a final score of 78-69. Nevada got a monster game from freshman Luke Babbitt. Babbitt who earlier in the week was named the WAC Freshman of the Year showed why he won the award. He finished the game 8-14 shooting, was 2-3 from three point distance and 12-13 from the charity stripe. He grabbed six boards, had two assists, one block and one steal in 33 minutes of play. San Jose State got a team high 22 points from DaShawn Wright who finished 8-11 from the field and 6-6 from the free throw line. Nevada takes on Louisiana Tech in the second semifinal on Friday at 8:30 p.m. PT
The final game of the day saw the #3 seed Idaho Vandals take on the #6 seed Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. The two teams had split the regular season meetings, each winning on their own home court. The two teams also shared another thing in common, they had both won in Reno during the WAC regular season. Idaho ended the regular season as the surprise of the league. Picked by the coaches and media to finish 9th in the nine team league, the Vandals shocked the WAC and earned a three way share of third place with New Mexico State and Boise State and earned the 3-seed by going 3-1 against the two aforementioned schools. Louisiana Tech came into the game as one of the WAC’s hotter teams winning six of nine to close out the season. Among those six wins were wins on the road at Murray State for Bracketbusters, then consecutive home wins over New Mexico State and Boise State. Louisiana Tech was on fire from three point land in the first half hitting seven of 10 attempts. However, that only bought them a four point first half lead. The second half was a war as both teams combined to shoot 41 free throws. Both teams were spectacular from the line with Tech hitting 20 of 25 attempts (80%) and Idaho hitting 15 of 16 (93.8%). Unfortunately for Idaho, their resurgent season ended in the quarterfinals as they would be unable to close the gap and fell 70-62. Louisiana Tech was led by Kyle Gibson‘s 23 points. Idaho’s Mac Hopson scored 16 in a losing effort. Louisiana Tech will face Nevada at 8:30 p.m. PT.
Player of the Day
Luke Babbitt, Nevada: 30 points, 12-13 FT, 6 REB, 2 ASST, 1 BLK, 1 STL, 33 MIN
#1 Utah State vs. #5 New Mexico State, 6:00 p.m. PT
Utah State won both games during the regular season. New Mexico State and Utah State are tied 2-2 in meetings in postseason conference play (Big West/WAC).
#2 Nevada vs. #6 Louisiana Tech, 8:30 p.m. PT – ESPN2
Nevada and Louisiana Tech split the season series with each team winning on the other’s home court. Nevada won on a last second three by freshman Luke Babbitt. Louisiana Tech led the game by as many as 15 points before falling 67-64. Louisiana Tech turned the tables on the Wolf Pack in Reno as Nevada lead by as many as 13 points in the first half before Louisiana Tech won 78-75. Nevada holds a decided series advantage of 13-4, including 12 of the last 13.