Checking In On… the WAC

Posted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2012

Sam Wasson is the RTC correspondent for the Western Athletic Conference.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • Nevada wrapped up at least a share of the regular season title with a win over Fresno State
  • New Mexico State strengthened their grip on second place with a pair of wins over Hawai’i and San Jose State
  • Idaho lost big at Utah State but gained ground in the battle for third place
  • Utah State picked up a win over Idaho avenging an earlier loss to the Vandals
  • Hawai’i got shellacked in their two road games
  • Louisiana Tech swept their two home games
  • Fresno State lost a tight one at home against Nevada
  • San Jose State was swept on the road

Power Rankings

  1. Nevada (23-5, 11-1): The Wolf Pack survived a stiff challenge on the road from Fresno State, survived a horrid shooting night from backcourt mates Deonte Burton and Malik Story (5-for-29) and survived getting just one point from their bench. It all added up to a 79-76 triple-overtime victory and at least a share of the regular season WAC crown and also the #1 overall seed in next week’s WAC Tournament. Nevada’s second half run through the WAC has not been nearly as easy as their 7-0 stroll through the first half. The Wolf Pack won those first seven games by an average margin of 10.7 points per game but the second half run through has included a loss to Idaho and a winning margin of just 4.75 points per game. Nevada appears to be losing just a little bit of steam heading into the gauntlet that is the WAC Tournament.

    Malik Story (34) and Deonte Burton Continue To Help Nevada Lead The Pack (Nevada Athletics)

  2. New Mexico State (22-8, 9-3): New Mexico State dominated its week of WAC play busting Hawai’i 115-73 and then keeping San Jose State at bay (no pun intended) 79-68.  The story of the week for New Mexico State revolved around their trio of seniors and one very talented freshman. The seniors, Wendell McKines (1000-plus points, 1000-plus rebounds), Hernst Laroche (1,000-plus points, soon-to-be all-time leader in games played) and Hamidu Rahman (1,000-plus points, second all-time in blocks) played their final game at home in the win over San Jose State but two nights earlier freshman Daniel Mullings stole the show with a 28-point, 12 rebound, 10-assist triple double, just the second in the school’s history and just the 13th in conference history. New Mexico State is peaking at the right time (if you’re an Aggie fan, the wrong time if you’re not) and as noted last week, they could be the odds-on favorites to steal the WAC’s auto-bid.
  3. Idaho (16-12, 7-5): The Vandals did not fare well in their trip to Logan. After leading by 15 points late in the first half Idaho wound up losing by 17, 67-50. Deremy Geiger was the only Vandal to reach double-digits (scoring 13 points) and the 50-point team total was the lowest scoring output by any team in conference play. Idaho has a shot at the #2 seed in next week’s tournament but needs to win both games this week and hope for New Mexico State to go 0-2.
  4. Utah State (15-14, 6-6): It wasn’t the “Tale of Two Cities” but rather two basketball teams and two halves in the game as the Aggies hosted Idaho and found themselves down 29-22 after the initial 20 minutes. Was this going to be another home loss, something as rare as Donald Trump mating with modesty, prior to this season? The spirit of Utah State teams past must have been channeled as Stew Morrill’s squad stormed back to outscore the Vandals 45-21 in the second period and win by 17 points. Preston Medlin scored close to half of Utah State’s points (finishing with 32) in addition to notching eight boards and five assists. He shot 11-for-13 overall, 6-for-8 from long distance.
  5. Hawaii (16-13, 6-6): Yowzer! Yes, Hawaii has been on the road for some time beginning with the 94-79 BracketBuster loss to Montana (who shot 56%) but that doesn’t necessarily account for continued defensive slackness as New Mexico State pounded Hawaii 115-73. It was 52-31 after 20 minutes and New Mexico State shot 60% overall. Center Vander Joaquim fouled out in 21 minutes of play, finishing with seven points and six boards and Zane Johnson continued to slump, scoring eight points in 31 minutes on 2-8 shooting. The road trip then continued with a game at Louisiana Tech and that made it official. Yes, Hawaii is road weary but still has yet to really put up a fight in the last three games as the Warriors were smacked 84-67 by Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs are not a team that should shoot 10 more free throws than Hawaii but they did. A 22-14 turnover deficit also damaged the chances for Gib Arnold’s group. Vander Joaquim led the Warriors with a 20/10 double/double but unfortunately none of his teammates stepped up.
  6. Louisiana Tech (15-14, 5-7): After a midseason swoon, the Bulldogs have bounced back and won four games in a row including two straight conference games last week.  Louisiana Tech shockingly hammered San Jose State and Hawai’i by a combined 43 points, plus-26 against San Jose State and plus-17 against a suddenly slumping Hawai’i. Romario Souza broke out for 19 points against the Spartans, the first time he’s led the Bulldogs in scoring all season while Trevor Gaskins paced the Dogs with 22 points. The Bulldogs have the tough trip to Reno and Fresno to finish conference play and a split would be adequate heading into the conference tournament.
  7. Fresno State (13-17, 3-9): WAC-to-be member Seattle came to town and was ahead 33-32 at the half. But the Bulldogs pulled ahead and owned a short lead for much of the latter 20 minutes and eventually won 78-72 behind a remarkable 43 points from sophomore backcourter Kevin Olekaibe. It was actually a strange shooting night for Fresno State’s top scorer, going 12-25 overall, just 5-15 from long distance but  a perfect 14-14 at the charity stripe. The Bulldogs attempted 39 free throws on the night, sinking 31 (to 8-16 for the Redhawks). But remarkably, Seattle shot 47% for the game to Fresno State’s 37%. After being told he was the first Bulldog to reach 40 points in over a decade, Olekaibe said, “”It means a lot. I was just trying to play my game and play loose. Coach is always telling me if I miss a shot, just keep shooting and I couldn’t do it without my team. They looked for me and found me, and I was just stepping in and shooting the ball.”  League leader Nevada arrived for a challenge and that it was. Three overtimes. Both teams kept battling until the Wolf Pack emerged to take it 79-76. Bulldog Kevin Foster went for 24/12 plus Jonathan Willis just missed his double-double with 19 and nine.
  8. San Jose State (9-19, 1-11): Defending the house is just what Louisiana Tech did to the tune of 75-49 when SJSU showed up in Ruston.  Forward Wil Carter was the only San Jose State player to show up offensively as he scored 17 points. The shooting percentages amplified one big factor in the point differential: 53% for the Bulldogs to 35% for the Spartans. Then it was New Mexico State and the Aggies were up 40-31 at the half and the game concluded with pretty much the same point differential, 79-68. Carter managed a 16/10 double-double but New Mexico State’s frontcourters had their way with Wendell McKines and Hamidu Rahman posting 20/15 and 22/10 double-doubles respectively. Rahman also was credited with five blocked shots and the Aggies owned the 45-30 rebounding advantage, something the Spartans have encountered all season due to lack of size. Utah State and Idaho are next in Silicon Valley and that does it for WAC play.

Looking Ahead

The final week of the regular season sees the spotlight shone squarely on the New Mexico State Aggies and Nevada Wolf Pack. Their Thursday night tilt will be televised on ESPN2 at 11:00 p.m. (ET). A win by Nevada clinches the outright title, a win by the Aggies prolongs their hopes for a share of the title. The 2-seed through 7-seeds are still up for grabs with the most intriguing battle in spots four through six. Nevada and Fresno State host New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech, Hawai’i and San Jose State hosts Idaho and Utah State.

Daniel Mullings Has Been On Fire Lately (AP)

Spotlight On

New Mexico State’s Daniel Mullings recorded just the 13th triple-double in WAC history and just the second in New Mexico State history. He finished the night with 28 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and threw in five steals for good measure as the Aggies thumped Hawai’i 115-73. Oddly enough as rare as triple-doubles are it was the second straight given up by Hawai’i, no doubt putting them in rare company of teams who have done that. Mullings’ triple-double overshadowed another fantastic performance by Fresno State super sophomore Kevin Olekaibe who tallied , a 43 points.

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