Checking In On… the WACPosted by Brian Goodman on January 19th, 2012
New Mexico State swept its home conference opening weekend to improve to 3-0 while Nevada dispatched their visitors to improve to 4-0 in league play. The two remain as the only unbeatens left in WAC play. Utah State had a troubling trip eastward, getting thumped by 20 in Las Cruces and barely squeezing by Louisiana Tech by four. Idaho likewise split the Las Cruces/Ruston roadie and both are at .500 in conference play. LA Tech and San Jose State both remain winless in conference play while Fresno State notched a win over SJSU to get out of the WAC basement for the time being.
- Nevada (15-3, 4-0): The Wolf Pack hang on to the top spot, barely, thanks to their home sweep last week over San Jose State and Hawai’i. Deonte Burton continues to terrorize opposing defenses, stating his case for WAC Player of the Year honors. Burton is not only scoring points, but hitting big shots and taking over games when he needs to. His 25 points against Hawai’i helped keep the Wolf Pack on top of the WAC. Despite getting most of their scoring from their starting five, opposing teams haven’t been able to shut those players down and until a team does so, the Pack should be able to stay on top of the league.
- New Mexico State (13-5, 3-0): The Aggies had arguably the most impressive weekend, sweeping a home stand of Utah State (by 20) and a better-than-their-record-indicates Idaho squad (by a dozen). Wendell McKines posted back-to-back double-doubles, his 10th and 11th of the year against Utah State and Idaho, respectively, and got some extra help from fellow post players Hamidu Rahman (23 points, nine rebounds) and Tshilidzi “Chili” Nephawe (22 points, eight rebounds) in the two wins. When the Aggies head to Honoulu this week, it will mark the second lengthy road trip this season, as they participated in the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage in November.
- Hawai’i (11-7, 2-1): Vander Joaquim posted a 23/16 double-double while Zane Johnson totaled 24 points on 6-12 shooting from long range in the Rainbow Warriors’ 74-68 victory over Fresno State in overtime. Coach Gib Arnold‘s squad then went to Reno, where it led Nevada by seven before the Wolf Pack turned the tide (even if Reno isn’t a seaport) and surged ahead near the end to win, 77-74. Joaquim again did heavy inside damage via 22 points and seven blocked shots. Power forward Joston Thomas was right behind with 22 points.
- Utah State (10-8, 2-2): Losing 80-60 at New Mexico State — a 46-26 second half will do that — wasn’t necessarily a shocker, but the points differential sure was. USU’s Kyisean Reed did his best in the losing cause with 18 points and six rebounds. Coach Stew Morrill used the ultimate pejorative afterwards in describing his team’s effort — quit — going to territory that most coaches won’t enter. The scolding plus must have helped as the Aggies then went on to face Louisiana Tech in Ruston and used a 12-2 run to win 69-65. Senior point Brockeith Pane exploded for 24 points on eight baskets plus eight free throws.
- Idaho (9-9, 2-2): The Vandals split their road trip out east nipping hot-shooting Louisiana Tech in overtime, 90-88 (their first win ever in Ruston) and then hanging tough with New Mexico State before succumbing 80-68. Kyle Barone had a 13/15 night against the Bulldogs and followed it up with a respectable 11 points and three rebounds against the massive New Mexico State front line. The Vandals need to utilize Barone more; The junior forward is shooting 56.1 percent from the field, but averaged just ten shots per game on the road trip and is taking just 7.7 shots per game on the year.
- Louisiana Tech (8-10, 0-3): The Bulldogs have played well thus far in conference play but have nothing to show for it. After losing to New Mexico State by ten, the Bulldogs nearly upset Idaho and lost to perennial league powerhouse Utah State by just four, 69-65. Senior Brandon Gibson is showing flashes of the form that made him a potential all-conference level player, netting 22 points and 13 rebounds against Idaho and then nine points and seven boards against USU.
- Fresno State (8-11, 1-3): Size is continuing to matter for the Bulldogs, actually lack thereof. Hawaii center Vander Joaquim went for 23 points and 16 boards while Fresno Stater Kevin Olekaibe totaled 15 points, but on an inefficient 5-17 shooting in the 74-68 UH overtime road win. SJSU then came into RaisinTown and coach Rodney Terry‘s squad won 82-73, bolstered by an amazing 21 assists on 24 baskets. Olekaibe went off for 32, going 6-11 from long distance. A newly healthy Kevin Foster — possibly even more important than the actual victory — produced his first double-double, 19 points plus 14 rebounds. More of this from the best big on the Bulldogs is needed. Cal State-San Marcos comes next on the schedule (a squad with former Bulldog Tim Steed leading the team at 16.1 points per game) followed by powerhouse Nevada.
- San Jose State (6-11, 0-3): Against host Nevada, San Jose State University lost both halves in an 81-57 defeat as the Wolf Pack shot 16-32 from three-point range. Backcourter James Kinney powered the Spartans with 16 points but needed 17 shot attempts to do so. It was then on to Fresno State for SJSU in a battle between teams searching for their first league win. Spartan Wil Carter posted his an impressive 20/13 double-double, but George Nessman’s team got KO’ed 82-73 as Bulldog sophomore backcourter Kevin Olekaibe went off for 32 points. New Mexico State (meaning Wendell McKines coming back home to the Bay Area) is next on the schedule, followed by Louisiana Tech.
The game of the week is the showdown on the islands between New Mexico State and Hawai’i on Saturday. It’s been a rough and tumble affair each of the past two games in Honolulu and the teams have split those two, with the Aggies winning 71-69 in 2010 and Hawai’i winning 76-70 in 2011. The Aggies stop in San Jose to take on the Spartans on Thursday night before making the journey to Honolulu. Also happening on Saturday, Utah State and Idaho square off in an always interesting teacher vs. student battle between Stew Morrill and Don Verlin. Idaho won the matchup in Moscow last season and could make it two in a row at home against the Aggies. LA Tech visits Hawai’i (Thursday) and San Jose State (Saturday), Fresno State visits Nevada (Saturday).
- It’s early, but already down to Nevada’s Deonte Burton and New Mexico State’s Wendell McKines for WAC Player of the Year honors. So who gets it? The one whose team wins the regular season?
- But definitely watch out for Hawaii’s Vander Joaquim, who stands second in scoring (21.7 PPG) and first in board play (12.3 RPG). He is shooting 69% and also blocking four shots each time out.
- Louisiana Tech’s Brandon Gibson was mired in a slump in non-conference games, but now stands eighth in the league at 15.7 points per game. He is also fourth in rebounding at nine per contest.
- Very surprisingly, Idaho center Kyle Barone is absent from the list of the top 15 WAC scorers.
- New Mexico State forward Tyrone Watson stands atop the conference in shooting with an amazing 86% clip.
- Jeremiah Ostrowski is running away with the assists crown as his nine per contest is far ahead from the next in line, Fresno State’s Steve Shepp‘s 6.5.
- Malik Story of Nevada is making good on his promise to shoot better from outside – 13-26 so far.
- In the most important team statistic (other than W’s and L’s), Hawaii still leads in defensive field goal percentage at 38% — New Mexico State is right behind at 39%, with Idaho last at 51%.
- New Mexico State is also collectively holding opponents to 23% shooting from long distance.
Caught On Film
Bandja Sy made SportsCenter’s Top Ten for a posterizing dunk against Utah State.