Checking in on… the WACPosted by Brian Goodman on January 12th, 2011
A Look Back
In the first stretch of the WAC play (Wednesday-Monday) the home teams went 8-1, with New Mexico State picking up the only road win. In the second weekend of WAC play (Thursday-Saturday) the road teams went 6-1 with New Mexico State picking up the only home win. The game of the week and certainly the early frontrunner for the game of the year in the league was Boise State‘s 102-101 quadruple overtime victory at San Jose State. For most of the season we have believed that the WAC will be a one-bid conference come March, however, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi projected Boise State to win the WAC Tournament and Utah State to earn an at-large bid in this week’s Bracketology.
Player of the Week:
Boise State’s La’Shard Anderson was named Player of the Week after leading Boise State to a pair of WAC road wins at San Jose State (102-101, 4OT) and Hawai‘i (79-55). Anderson scored a career-high 31 points in Boise State’s quadruple overtime win at San Jose State. He scored 17 of his 31 points during the four overtime periods and scored all four of the Broncos’ points in the final overtime. Anderson followed that up with 20 points in BSU’s win at Hawai‘i and hit five of six shots from three-point range. For the week, Anderson averaged 25.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 55.2 percent (16-29) from the field and 75.0 percent (6-8) from three-point range. He also hit 72.2 percent (13-18) of his shots at the free throw line.
1. Utah State (14-2, 3-0)
Up Next: 01/13 at Boise State, 01/15 at Fresno State
Utah State picked up one of the six road wins by WAC teams as they overcame a ten-point deficit in the second half to win by 14 at Nevada. Utah State torched the Wolf Pack defense in the second half, shooting 69.2 percent from the field. Surprisingly enough, the UtAgs only hit two three pointers in the second half during the comeback. Tai Wesley went for 21 points and eight rebounds, Brockeith Pane added 17 points and Brady Jardine scored 14. The trio combined to shoot 20-27 from the floor (74 percent). The Aggies continue their road journey as they travel to Boise for a first place showdown between the league’s only remaining unbeatens. They’ll then wrap up the road trip at Fresno State against the second-place Bulldogs.
2. Boise State (11-5, 4-0)
Up Next: 01/13 vs. Utah State, 01/15 vs. Nevada (ESPN Full Court)
Boise State continued to impress as they notched their first road conference sweep since prior to joining the WAC as they survived a 102-101 quadruple overtime battle with San Jose State and then easily dispatched of Hawai’i, 79-55. The biggest test of the season comes on Thursday night, as they host Utah State in a battle for first place in the WAC. A win by Boise State would send a strong message to the rest of the league that the path to the title could go through Boise in their final season in the WAC. The Broncos are hoping to start 5-0 in conference play for the first time since the 1987-88 season when they won seven in a row to start Big Sky play. Following their showdown with Utah State, they’ll host Nevada.
3. Idaho (9-6, 3-1)
Up Next: 01/12 vs. Nevada (ESPN2), 01/15 at CS-Bakersfield, 01/17 at Fresno State
Like their in-state brethren, the Vandals also swept the Hawai’i/San Jose trip to improve to 3-1 in league play. After struggling through an up-and-down (mostly down) non-conference schedule, the Vandals have found whatever it was they were missing in the first semester. After a solid defensive performance against Hawai’i, holding the Warriors to just 44 points, the Vandals overcame an eight-point halftime deficit to surge past San Jose State. Idaho shot 66.7 percent in the second half and finished with five players scoring in double figures. Idaho hosts Nevada in a nationally televised game on ESPN2 then heads to the state of California for a pair of road games as they’ll face Cal State-Bakersfield on Saturday night and Fresno State on Monday night.
4. Fresno State (7-7, 3-1)
Up Next: 01/15 vs. Utah State, 01/17 vs. Idaho
After newcomer Tim Steed injured an ankle in the Bulldogs’ win against Nevada, he sat out both road games against Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State. Though Steed-less, coach Steve Cleveland‘s squad took a 63-56 win. The momentum was slowed next game though as New Mexico State is tough to top in Las Cruces and that’s exactly how it played out in an 80-68 loss to the Aggies. Next up are two toughies: Utah State plays in Fresno on the 15th and Idaho the same on the 17th. A home sweep would be huge for the Bulldogs, but even a split would be acceptable and would keep them in the top half of the conference standings. It’s unknown when Steed will be able to return, which is a blow when considering he’s averaging 18 points per game in conference play. Greg Smith has edged into a team leader, averaging 10.9 points per game, and freshman Kevin Olekaibe is still right there at 10.2. In WAC play, Smith is tied for fifth in rebounding at 7.7 a contest. Steve Shepp ranks second in the league with 4.5 assists per game.
5. New Mexico State (8-9, 2-1)
Up Next: 01/13 vs. Hawai’i (ESPN Full Court), 01/15 vs. San Jose State (ESPN Full Court)
The Aggies knocked off Fresno State 80-68 to improve to 2-1 in league play and more importantly, hold serve at home, something the rest of the league’s home teams were unable to do over the weekend. The Aggies were a hot 57.9 percent in the first half and an even better 58.3 percent in the second half. They also went to the free throw line a whopping 37 times and were able to convert 26 of those attempts (70.3 percent). The Aggies have shot 472 free throws this season, which is nearly 100 more than their opponents. Up next for the Aggies are a pair of dangerous winless WAC foes in Hawai’i and San Jose State.
6. Nevada (4-12, 1-2)
Up Next: 01/12 at Idaho (ESPN2), 01/5 at Boise State
The learning experiences continue for the Wolf Pack as they dropped their showdown against Utah State 81-67 after leading by as many as ten in the second half. Duke transfer Olek Czyz continues to dominate WAC defenses as he scored 25 against Utah State in the loss and he leads the league in scoring in conference play at 24.7 points per game. A pair of tough road tests await the young Nevada squad as they’ll travel to Moscow to take on Idaho in a nationally televised game, and then will face league-leading Boise State. Earning at least a road sweep is critical for the Wolf Pack if they want to keep a top four seed in the WAC tournament in their grasp.
8. San Jose State (8-7, 0-4)
Up Next: 01/13 at Louisiana Tech, 01/15 at New Mexico State (ESPN Full Court)
Opening WAC play with road losses to Utah State and then Fresno weren’t all that unusual. But those were followed by home defeats at the hands of Boise State (102-101 in four overtimes) and then Idaho 75-67. Heading to Louisiana Tech on the 13th followed by New Mexico State on the 15th are critical games for the Spartans and earning at least a split is a must. Fifth-year seniors Adrian Oliver and Justin Graham have generally been consistent but no third (or fourth) player has stepped each game day. Sophomore junior college transfer Brylle Kamen has moved into the SJSU lineup, replacing Matt Ballard in the middle. Oliver is currently fifth in scoring in the WAC at 19.8 points per game. Graham ranks second with 5.8 assists a contest.
8. Hawai’i (9-7, 0-3)
Up Next: 01/13 at New Mexico State, 01/15 at Hawai’i
Who are the Rainbow Warriors? The team that roared out of the chute with a sparkling early record or the one that currently is winless in the WAC (losses to Utah State and Nevada on the road, losses to Idaho and Boise State at home)? The respective 44 and 55-point outputs against the Vandals and Broncos are of concern as Gib Arnold‘s team isn’t showing the ability to penetrate nor a talent for dropping in the outside shot of late. Next is tripping to New Mexico State, followed by a detour to Louisiana Tech. The Warriors are 0-3 on the road this season and winning on the road is a must in this league. Senior center Bill Amis is rusty having missed a bevy of games due to injury so Hiram Thompson and Zane Johnson, the veritable team elders, need to step up and produce. Dominick Brumfield, a junior college newcomer upfront, is also getting back into playing shape so UH has the possibility of being a better team further down the road simply based on the return of Amis to his previous level and Brumfield adjusting to D-I play. Center Vander Joaquim is seventh in the conference in rebounding at 7.8 a game and is shooting 63%, sixth in the WAC.
9. Louisiana Tech (9-7, 0-3)
Up Next: 01/13 vs. San Jose State, 01/15 vs. Hawai’i
Is it time to hit the panic button in Ruston? It very well may be if they are unable to pick up at least one win this weekend against fellow winless conference mates San Jose State and Hawai’i. The Bulldogs lost Round I of the Battle of the Bone as Fresno State won 63-56 despite playing without one of their top players. The news doesn’t get any better for Louisiana Tech either as they will be without sophomore starter Brandon Gibson the remainder of the season as he underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered against Boise State on December 29th. Gibson was fourth on the team in steals (13), third on the team in scoring (9.2 PPG), second in rebounds (5.1 RPG) and first in blocked shots (14). It’s not good news, as the Bulldogs are dead least in offensive output (54.3 PPG). Winning at home is crucial this weekend as the next pair of conference games will be at Utah State and at Nevada.
A Look Ahead
All eyes will be on Boise on Thursday night as Boise State and Utah State battle for first place and on Saturday fans will be watching with great interest as Fresno State hosts Utah State. Also this weekend at least one of the WAC’s winless teams will get off the mat as SJSU (0-4) and Hawai’i (0-3) both visit Louisiana Tech (0-3).