Checking In On… the WACPosted by Brian Goodman on January 26th, 2012
Louisiana Tech had the best week overall finishing 2-0 on their road trip to Honolulu and San Jose. New Mexico State split that same road trip, winning in San Jose but falling on the islands. Nevada held off a pesky Fresno State squad while Idaho got the better of Utah State in Moscow.
- Nevada (16-3, 5-0): Winners of 13 in a row, the Wolf Pack now holds the second longest win streak in the nation thanks to a loss by Syracuse over the weekend. Only Murray State, a potential BracketBuster opponent, has a longer win streak (and is the only undefeated team left in the nation). Nevada’s starting five continue to get it done, scoring 58 of the team’s 74 points in a tougher-than-expected win over Fresno State at home on Saturday. That win sets up the battle for first place with New Mexico State (4-1) in Las Cruces on Thursday night, though the Aggies come in with a blemished record thanks to fellow contender Hawai’i. The Wolf Pack has been torching the nets from deep. In conference play, the Pack is shooting 43 percent, tops in the league and four percentage points better than their non-conference performance.
- New Mexico State (14-6, 4-1): The Aggies split the San Jose State/Hawai’i road trip, winning easily at San Jose State but falling at Hawai’i in a game where they trailed big in the second half but rallied in the waning minutes before eventually losing by four points. The Aggies were done in by Zane Johnson‘s 29 points, which included seven treys. The Aggies had done an outstanding job guarding the three-point shot in the previous five games (their previous four WAC opponents had hit just 22 percent of their attempts), but allowed UH to shoot 53 percent from deep, something which they cannot allow Nevada to do when the two teams meet Thursday night in Las Cruces.
- Hawai’i (12-8, 3-2): With Jeremiah Ostrowski and Zane Johnson absent due to injury and Vander Joaquim somehow in foul trouble against the diminutive Bulldogs, UH fell 74-70 to visiting Louisiana Tech. Then it was New Mexico State coming to Honolulu and UH led 44-34 at the half. The Rainbow Warriors extended the lead to 71-52 at the 11-minute mark and eventually won 91-87. Back from ill health, Johnson and Ostrowski played major roles, the former finishing with 29 points on 7-13 shooting from long distance and the latter passing for eight assists. Joaquim enjoyed an 11/10 double-double and UH totaled ten blocked shots on the night. Packing up for matchups with hosts Utah State and then Idaho are on the upcoming agenda — it’s an intriguing trip offering the possibility of a pair of wins if Hawaii can play solid back-to-back games on the road.
- Idaho (10-9, 3-2): It’s not often that a team gets the better of Utah State two years in a row but that’s exactly what Idaho was able to do in knocking off the UtAgs in Moscow. Their victory essentially eliminated the Aggies from winning their fifth consecutive regular season title by dealing them a third conference loss before the first half of conference play has ended. The Vandals somehow managed the victory despite shooting worse from the field (41 percent versus 49 percent), worse from the free throw line (though they did make three more) and getting out rebounded by seven. That formula will not win them games this week as San Jose State and Hawai’i visit Moscow.
- Louisiana Tech (10-10, 2-3): The Bulldogs had arguably the best week of the WAC teams as they went into Honolulu and came away with a 74-70 victory and then defeated San Jose State 71-67 on the back end of the trip. Pulling off a sweep on that road trip, particularly for the team who has to travel the furthest to complete it, is cause for celebration in Ruston and don’t look know but the Bulldogs have the same conference record as the four-time defending champs, Utah State.
- Utah State (10-10, 2-3): Utah State faced off with host Seattle and the Redhawks led 22-9 at the 12-minute mark, 30-20 with four minutes remaining in the initial 20 and 34-27 at halftime. It ended 73-66 in favor of the Washington-ers, who shot 53 percent overall, 57 percent on 14 trey attempts. Seattle also won the rebounding battle 32-21. Brockeith Pane led the Aggies with 20 points and Preston Medlin was right behind with 19, although the latter went 2-of-10 on threes. USU beat Seattle 78-53 in Logan back on December 17. Then visiting USU enjoyed a four-point halftime margin over Idaho and the Aggies were still leading at the eight minute mark. However, the Vandals had 57 to USU’s 54 come buzzer time. Despite an off a 1-of-7 long distance shooting night for Medlin, the redshirt sophomore still paced the Logan-ites with 17, plus his seven rebounds also led. The turnover differential: eight for Idaho, 16 for USU, haunted the Aggies plus the latter also totaled but six assists. Welcome-wagoning Hawaii and then San Jose State are next on the menu.
- Fresno State (7-12, 1-4): Cal State San Marcos came to town — the return of prodigal son Tim Steed — and the Bulldogs won 66-55 behind 17 points and seven rebounds from Jerry Brown. It was 26-all at halftime. By the way, Steed scored 10 points in 33 minutes but added four rebounds, four steals and three assists. Then it was an in the realm of the expected 74-61 fall to Nevada, with the bright spot being 17 points from sophomore backcourter Tyler Johnson. The major down side was leading scorer Kevin Olekaibe shooting 9-34 in the two games. Fresno State can’t win with those numbers. Next up are road trips to Ruston (Louisiana Tech) and then Las Cruces (New Mexico State). The former offers a chance to win, the latter not so much.
- San Jose State (6-13, 0-5): It was Hamidu Rahman night for New Mexico State as the Aggies went into San Jose and defeated the Spartans 79-63. The big went for 20 points against the smaller and far less bulkier SJSU. Keith Shamburger‘s 19 paced SJSU who gave up 51% shooting to the opponents and also lost the battle of the boards 39-25. Then Louisiana Tech came into Silicon Valley and also emerged with a win, 71-67. The Spartans held a 33-31 lead after the initial 20 minutes but the Bulldogs came on after intermission, winning the shooting percentage battle 49 percent to SJSU’s 39 percent. James Kinney was the top producer for San Jose State 22 points, followed by Keith Shamburger‘s 16 and forward Wil Carter put up a 12/11 double-double. The trifecta game of the week, against Cal State Bakersfield proved fruitful, 78-70, behind 30 points from redshirt freshman D.J. Brown.
- The headliner is Nevada at New Mexico State (Thursday, Jan. 26, 6 P.M., ESPN3) with first place on the line. A win by New Mexico State keeps the regular season race interesting for a few more weeks while a win by Nevada could potentially seal the regular season title for the Pack as they would have wins at Idaho, at Utah State and at New Mexico State, all before the midway point of conference play.
- The undercard on Thursday night features Hawai’i at Utah State. A win by Hawai’i keeps their regular season title hopes alive, especially if New Mexico State can deal Nevada a loss as the Wolf Pack still have to visit Honolulu. Then on Saturday the Warriors visit Idaho. Should Hawai’i come in fresh off a victory, the game will serve as an elimination game in the regular season title race as a third loss before the midway point of conference play spells doom in a shortened 14-game schedule.
- Fresno State hits the road taking on LA Tech and New Mexico State. Louisiana Tech hosts Fresno State and then Nevada, their fourth and fifth home games of conference play (that means the back half of their schedule will leave the team road-weary).
- Louisiana Tech freshman guard Raheem Appleby is averaging 19 points per contest in WAC play so far this season — okay, hands up of those who saw this coming?
- In four conference contests, Hawaii wing/guard Zane Johnson is averaging 18.3 point a game — this despite just a pair of free throw attempts so far.
- If SJSU frontcourter Wil Carter continues his pace of scoring and boarding — 13.6 and 11.0 respectively — does he get a nod for a spot on the All WAC team?
The Case for Hamidu Rahman
At the risk of sounding like a legal representative of the Department of Homeland Security, an apology is due. A preseason prediction by Kevin that senior Hamidu Rahman would relegated to coming off the bench by 6’10” sophomore Tshilidzi Nephawe in 2011-12 has proven to be invalid. Rahman has started all 20 New Mexico State games and is averaging 10.4 points (14.0 in conference action) and 6.6 boards while shooting 63% on the season. Meanwhile, Nephawe is a 43% marksman and averaging 5.2 and 3.1 respectively. Of late, Rahman has enjoyed 20 points and eight boards (in 22 minutes) matching up with San Jose State, followed by 16 points and six rebounds versus Hawaii (in 20 minutes). It was 12 and six in 17 minutes versus Idaho prior to SJSU. The senior out of New Jersey was nagged by injuries last season, averaging 7.2 points per game while making 49 percent of his shot attempts. This go-round, he is healthy and showing his full potential.