Checking in on… the WACPosted by Brian Goodman on February 23rd, 2011
A Look Back
Despite a down year in the WAC, the league still took care of business on Bracketbusters weekend finishing 8-1 with the lone loss by New Mexico State against the Big Sky’s Northern Colorado. The marquee game of the weekend slate saw Utah State rally from a nine-point halftime deficit and dominate the St. Mary’s Gaels in the second half, winning 75-65. The game also provided a “Dunk of the Year” candidate as USU’s Brady Jardine posterized Mitchell Young.
After the Bracketbusters romp, the WAC heads into the final two weeks of conference play with spots two through nine still up for grabs.
Player of the Week: Utah State’s Tai Wesley was named the Player of the Week for Feb. 14–20 after leading Utah State to a pair of wins last week over Montana Western (100-66) and No. 23 Saint Mary’s (75-65) on the road. Against Montana Western, Wesley had 20 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one blocked shot in 21 minutes. Against Saint Mary’s, he posted his sixth double-double of the season with 22 points and 11 rebound and added two blocked shots and an assist.
Sitting Out: There are currently three players who have been suspended indefinitely from WAC play by their respective head coaches, Fresno State‘s Tim Steed , Louisiana Tech‘s DeAndre Brown and San Jose State‘s Brylle Kamen. In addition, Joston Thomas took the weekend off to decide whether Hawai’i was truly the place he wanted to be (he went with “Yes”).
1. Utah State (25-3, 12-1)
Up Next: 02/26 vs. Idaho
The Aggies finally picked up a statement win this season as they endured a 20-2 Gael run in the first half and smoked St. Mary’s in the second half (48-29) snapping SMC’s 19-game home win streak in the process. Whether the win will be enough to ensure an at-large bid remains to be seen, but the UtAgs would rather win their final three regular season conference games and the WAC Tournament than have to sit through Selection Sunday to find out. Idaho comes calling on Saturday and you can be sure the head coach Stew Morrill will have an offense in place to counter the box-and-one defense used against him by his protege, Don Verlin, in the last meeting.
2. New Mexico State (14-13, 8-4)
Up Next: 02/23 at San Jose State (ESPN2), 02/26 at Hawai’i
The Aggies were the lone team to lose on Bracketbusters weekend as Northern Colorado stunned the Aggies 82-80 in Las Cruces and snapped a five-game Bracketbusters win streak. Northern Colorado hit nine first half treys but didn’t hit a single three in the second half, but poor free throw shooting (9-16) in the second half by the Aggies prevented them from a comeback victory. Troy Gillenwater returned from his ankle injury but was hampered by foul trouble and produced only 13 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes of action. The Aggies made the difficult trip to San Jose and Honolulu this week with second place hopes hanging in the balance. New Mexico State holds a one game lead in the standings over Nevada with the Wolf Pack having won the first meeting. A pair of wins is a must with Nevada and Utah State coming to Las Cruces to end the regular season next week. Tonight’s game will be a battle of the league’s two best scorers. Adrian Oliver leads the way averaging 23.9 PPG (22.1 in conference) and Troy Gillenwater at 20.0 PPG (21.8 in conference). The Aggies have made the Honolulu/San Jose swing twice and split both times.
3. Nevada (11-15, 7-5)
Up Next: 02/24 vs. Idaho, 02/26 vs. Boise State
Nevada took care of business against UC-Irvine in the Bracketbusters, winning 74-63 behind 20 points from Dario Hunt. The Wolf Pack host Idaho and Boise State, the two teams directly behind them in the conference standings as they try to put a little distance between themselves and fourth place. The Wolf Pack lost at Idaho (72-67) but defeated Boise State (69-67) in the first meetings. A home sweep by the Pack will set up a potential showdown next week for second place as Nevada travels to LA Tech and New Mexico State to end the regular season.
4. Boise State (15-11, 7-6)
Up Next: 02/24 at Fresno State, 02/26 at Nevada
After a mid-schedule swoon, the Broncos have reeled off three in a row, including a 78-76 overtime win at UC-Santa Barbara. The Broncos head out on the road to take on Fresno state and Nevada as they try to move up into third place in the conference standings. A pair of victories could have them sitting as high as second place after the weekend depending on what happens to New Mexico State and Nevada. There is still much to play for for Leon Rice’s club and a road split is the minimum requirement this week to stay in the top four
5. Idaho (15-11, 7-6)
Up Next: 02/24 at Nevada, 02/26 at Utah State
After thumping Montana State 65-50 on the road, the Vandals have their work cut out for them as they travel to Reno and Logan to take on third place Nevada and first place Utah State. The Vandals are the only team that has beaten both Nevada and Utah State and a road sweep would send shockwaves through the league. We’ll have to wait and see what tricks Don Verlin has up his sleeves this time around when the team travels to Logan to take on his mentor, Stew Morrill.
6. Hawai’i (15-10, 5-7)
Up Next: 02/24 vs. Louisiana Tech, 02/26 vs. New Mexico State
A BracketBuster contest on the mainland against UC Davis turned into a second half rout for the Rainbow Warriors, as wing Zane Johnson buried nine treys (in 15 attempts) on his way to 32 points. Plus, this was accomplished minus starting point Hiram Thompson out due to injury and forward Joston Thomas away apparently deciding on his membership with the team. Hawaii shot 61% for the game. Jeremiah Ostrowski filled in for Thompson with nine points, seven assists and a trio of steals. Moving up in the rotation, freshman forward Trevor Wiseman matched eight points with eight boards in 26 minutes of play. Louisiana Tech comes in on February 24 (minus the services of starting PG DeAndre Brown, who has been suspended indefinitely) followed New Mexico State on the 26th. Thomas will be back with the team after having a heart-to-heart with head coach Gib Arnold and deciding that Honolulu was indeed the place he wants to be.
7. Fresno State (13-14, 5-8)
Up Next: 02/24 vs. Boise State
Going outside of conference play, the Bulldogs got healthy feasting on Cal State Bakersfield (73-55) and UC Riverside 68-49), the latter a BracketBuster matchup. Despite just nine foul shots against the Roadrunners in addition to being out-boarded by seven, FSU shot a remarkable 30-60 from the floor while holding Bakersfield to 17-61 accuracy. Tim Steed scored 23 points and grabbed seven boards. Versus Riverside, a Steed-less Bulldog squad utilized center Greg Smith‘s 23/14 double-double in lowering the Highlanders. A 46-26 rebound differential plus a 40-22 points-in-the-paint margin paved the way to success. Coach Steve Cleveland announced prior to the Riverside matchup that Steed was on suspension — his return date unknown. Next up is Boise State coming to town on February 24. FSU lost 75-61 up in Boise on February 10.
8. San Jose State (13-12, 3-9)
Up Next: 02/23 vs. New Mexico State (ESPN2), 02/26 vs. Louisiana Tech
It was “Pick on the Big Sky Conference Week” for SJSU, as the Spartans got past Montana State 77-73 and then waxed Weber State 62-46. The former was a tale of two halves as the Spartans led 46-25 at the half but were outscored by 17 points in the second 20 minutes. Adrian Oliver totaled 35 points for San Jose State. The Weber matchup was a fizzle for the Wildcats as they entered the game shooting 51% from the floor on three-pointers as part of a six-game winning streak but were held to 23% from long distance. Spartan forward Wil Carter posted a 16/14 double-double and freshman guard Keith Shamburger led the way with 21 points. New Mexico State is in February 23 with Louisiana Tech arriving on the 26th. The latter may prove critical as SJSU is currently one game ahead of LT in the WAC standings and it appears one or the other will miss the conference tournament since the last place finisher doesn’t receive an invite. San Jose State defeated the Bulldogs 79-74 in Ruston on January 13.
9. Louisiana Tech (12-16, 2-10)
Up Next: 02/24 at Hawai’i, 02/26 at San Jose State
It’s the last chance to dance for the Bulldogs as their conference tournament hopes hinge greatly on their performance this week against Hawai’i and SJSU. With Nevada and Utah State visiting next week, two wins this week are a must. It won’t be an easy task as leading scorer DeAndre Brown (15.8 PPG in conference) has been suspended indefinitely by head coach Kerry Rupp. The Bulldogs lost at home to both Hawai’i and San Jose State earlier this season.
A Look Ahead
The conference tournament looms for the WAC teams and the seeding is still up in the air for spots two through eight. The team with the most to lose this week is New Mexico State, who currently occupies the second place spot, and has a tough road trip at San Jose State and at Hawai’i. Two wins and they’ll head back to Las Cruces feeling very good about themselves. Two losses and they could drop from second to fifth and go from looking at a double bye into the semis to facing the prospect of having to win four games in four days to make it to the NCAA Tournament. Nevada, Boise State and Idaho are also all fighting for byes as all three could conceivably finish as high as second.