Even More Notes From the Mountain West, Atlantic 10 and WAC TourneysPosted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2010
In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament, Joe Dzuback at the Atlantic 10 Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend. In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournaments, they will each post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for tonight’s pair of championship games and the A10 semis.
Mountain West Finals: San Diego State 55, UNLV 45
- The only logical place to begin here is with Kawhi Leonard, who was dominant tonight. The line speaks for itself: 21 rebounds (a career high), including seven on the offensive end. 16 points. Holding Tre’Von Willis to 4/12 shooting from the floor (and at least two of those field goals came when SDSU inexplicably switched to zone at the start of the 2nd half). And throw in a couple assists and a couple steals for good measure. He definitely presents matchup problems for every team in the MWC, and he will present problems for teams across the country. Throw a smaller, quicker guy on him and Leonard will dominate in the paint; put a big man on him and he can step outside and use his face-up game. In the postgame press conference, UNLV head coach Lon Kruger was asked about the possibility of having to deal with Leonard for three more years, and the look that crossed his face (a combination of a knowing smile and a grimace) was priceless before he went on to spend a couple minutes singing Leonard’s praises. While New Mexico’s Darington Hobson and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette rightly are regarded as the best players in the conference, it is Leonard who is the most talented player in the conference.
- Willis tweaked his ankle late in the game on Friday night, and while he played without incident tonight, he was likely not as explosive as he was earlier in the tournament. How much of that had to do with the ankle and how much was the Leonard factor is up for debate, but Coach Kruger of course brushed off any notion that Willis was hampered by the ankle.
- The vaunted UNLV homecourt advantage turned out to be much less of an issue tonight than it was either last night or even on Thursday night in the quarterfinal. Maybe it was the earlier start, or maybe it was the Aztec fans’ inability to provoke the UNLV fans into a cheering confrontation as Utah and BYU fans did, but while the Rebel fans sure got loud when Larry Johnson and Jerry Tarkanian were shown on the scoreboard, they were never really a huge factor in the game.
- Last night in this space I talked up UNLV junior center Brice Massamba quite a bit. Tonight? Um, who? Massamba’s totals: 18 minutes, five fouls, two rebounds, two turnovers.
- Now, time for me to admit a couple areas where I was dead wrong. This doesn’t happen often (not me being wrong, I’m wrong a lot, I just rarely admit it – ask my wife), so soak it up.
- First, sometime in the middle of the MWC season I wrote that San Diego State junior point guard D.J. Gay was holding his team back and that head coach Steve Fisher should make the move to freshman Chase Tapley at the point. Well, Gay proved me wrong and Fisher right more or less from that point on. While Gay still doesn’t shoot a great percentage from the floor, he has really cut down on the turnovers over the back half of the schedule, and more important than anything the numbers show, he is the leader on this team. Guys like Leonard and Billy White and Malcolm Thomas and even senior Kelvin Davis are all major cogs for this Aztec team, but it is Gay who makes this team go. Look at his numbers over the tournament, and they’re nothing special (in fact, they’re downright awful): less than 8ppg, six of 26 from the field, 10 assists, five turnovers. And yet, they probably don’t get out of the quarterfinals without him (when he hit two clutch free throws at the end to provide the final margin), they certainly don’t get through New Mexico without him and his seven assists and zero turnovers, and tonight it was Gay’s big three in the face of Oscar Bellfield under six minutes that extended the Aztec lead above one possession for the first time since very early in the second half. Throw in the fact that the guy played 119 of a possible 120 minutes in this tournament (and the minute that he was out the Aztecs looked lost) and its clear Gay brings more to this team than his numbers would indicate. And, just to extend my praise of the guy, he is also a well-spoken, funny kid.
- The other place I was wrong is about Fisher. For several years now, I have been critical of some of Fisher’s in-game coaching and even his ability to bring along talent. While I thought his decision to open the second half in a zone for a couple of possessions was a similarly goofy decision, there’s really no questioning what he has done with this team. The vast improvement this team has made since opening night when they were absolutely drilled by St. Mary’s is clear and he has really gotten a talented team to buy into team over individual fully. Now, I’ll admit some of this may be because Fisher was just so charming and effusive in his press conferences that he won me over (tonight’s great Fisher quote, on winning the recruiting battle of Leonard over some Pac-10 schools: “we don’t need to get down on kneepads to recruit against the Pac-10.”), but the fact that he has taken a SDSU program with little history and put them in the postseason in seven of his 11 seasons, including now three NCAA visits, says all that needs to be said about Fisher’s ability to coach. The fact that he is just so likable is only a bonus.
- I chose Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Leonard and Gay as my five for the all-tourney team, with Leonard as my MVP, although I felt awfully bad about not writing down White, Chase Stanback or Dairese Gary. The official tournament team was Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Stanback, White and Leonard (no fair they got to pick an extra one – I wanted my all-tourney team to have eight guys), with Leonard the MVP.
Atlantic 10 Semifinals
Temple 57, Rhode Island 44
- The Rhode Island Rams are used to scoring in the high 70s. The Temple Owls smothered them this afternoon, holding the Rams to 44 points on 16-59 shooting. Rhode Island’s Keith Cothran was the only Ram who had any success from the outside, going 3-5 from beyond the arc. Temple controlled the tip, rebounded their first miss and scored their first points in the game’s first 45 seconds. They punched the Rams hard, going up 7-0 in the first four minutes, then maintained a double-scoring lead of 15-7 by the eighth minute of the first half, and maintained that “double” margin through the end of the half, taking a 34-17 cushion into the locker room. The Rams were ice cold from the floor in the first half, going 7-30 from the floor. Cold early from the outside, the Rams tried to go inside; when they failed to score consistently, they tried backdoor cuts and high post screens. It absolutely worked consistently for them.
- Juan Fernandez went 5-8 from the floor, continuing his run through the A10 field. More impressive however, was his seven assists against no turnovers. The sophomore point guard has more games to play as the Owls make a case for a #3 seed in the NCAAs.
- After a conference tournament rush to get back into the NCAA conversation, Rhode Island could not close the deal for an NCAA bid, Coach Dunphy’s kind words in the postgame press conference notwithstanding. The Rams’ play was tentative and incomplete, whether going for a rebound or knocking down the jumper, the Rams were a step slow or airballed short.
Richmond 89, Xavier 85
- The second semifinal, an overtime affair between the tournament’s #2 and #3 seeds was reminiscent of their single regular season meeting in Cincinnati. The Musketeers won a 78-76 nailbiter, but needed two overtimes to put the Spiders away. This game was every bit as exciting, with the Spiders holding a slender two-point lead, 85-83, in the last 26 seconds. Xavier held the lead going into the half and when they ran that lead out to eight five and a half minutes into the second half, Richmond fans voice their frustration. Loudly. But the Spiders did not fold. They climbed back into the game with a 17-9 run over the next seven minutes. A10 Player of the Year Kevin Anderson, who at times appeared lethargic, kicked it into gear. Richmond’s senior guard, dehydrated from a nasty bout of the flu, had been strapped to an IV drip for most of the morning but despite no rest from his coach once the game began seemed to get stronger as the game went on. The last minute of regulation was a powerful, mano-a-mano give and take between Anderson and Xavier’s sensational transfer and second place finisher, Jordan Crawford. The Xavier off guard hit a jumper with 55 seconds left to push Xavier’s lead out to four, while Anderson responded with surprising burst of speed in the lane to hit a layup with 45 seconds left. Guarded by Anderson, Xavier’s Terrell Holloway then blew by the Spider senior but left the ball on the rim. Richmond’s Francis Martel took the rebound, but lost it to Xavier’s Dante Jackson. Fouled by Martel, Jackson stepped to the line and missed the front end of his one-and-one. Rebounded by David Gonzalvez, Richmond Coach Chris Mooney called a timeout and drew up a play that put the ball in Anderson’s hands with the game on the line. Anderson converted, driving the baseline as he put the ball off the glass and tied the score with three seconds left.
- Jordan Crawford had a good game, scoring 20 points on 8-20 shooting. The A10 POY runner-up also grabbed eight rebounds while dishing three assists and getting three steals. Had the Musketeers won, the late misses would have been overlooked.
- Kevin Anderson, despite the dehydration, played all 45 minutes of the game. The senior sensation had a sluggish first half, but made up for it with heroic scoring drives late in the second half. Overall, he scored 27 points on 10-21 shooting. Realizing early on he was not going to get good looks from the outside, Anderson worked with sophomore forward Francis Martel and junior center Dan Geriot to get into the lane without the ball. Martel or Geriot would take the pass high, and pass into Anderson flashing into the lane. Anderson also showed a fifth gear that left defenders at midcourt when he decided to run a one man fast break.
WAC Finals: New Mexico State 69, Utah State 63
- Congrats to New Mexico State for winning the tournament and doing it in the hardest way possible, having to beat Nevada on their home floor and then turn around and play a Utah State team that had won 17 in a row in less than 24 hours.
- Everything I read coming into the game was that Utah State was a lock no matter the outcome, except now that the outcome was unfavorable everyone has them on the bubble and only a maybe to get in. On a bubble that featured so many teams flaming out and not earning their way in, how could you leave out a Utah State team that hadn’t lost in over two months until tonight?
- If you follow college hoops at all, you’ve probably read approximately 250 articles on why expanding the tournament to 96 is a bad idea. Everyone focuses on the importance of the regular season, and devaluing the tournament and those are all good and correct points. The point that you never hear though? The pain. The looks on the Utah State fans faces were heartbreaking on Saturday night, and without that pain it won’t make the next victory feel as sweet. They might get a chance to prove themselves in the NCAAs this week and they might not get a chance to vindicate themselves until they play New Mexico State again, but when they do get another big win it will be so much sweeter because of the pain they felt tonight.
- I’m not a licensed bracketologist, but I’d imagine New Mexico State will be in the #14 seed range when we see the brackets tomorrow, but that’s only because they played the nonconference season without Wendell McKines and Troy Gillenwater. With these two on the roster this Aggie team is very dangerous, and had they played at full strength all year they would have been right in the bubble talk with Utah State.