Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net and Travis Mason-Bushman of Vandal Nation are the RTC correspondents for the Western Athletic Conference.
The WAC opened up league play this past weekend and after the first weekend there were a couple of surprises. The biggest surprise came from Utah State. The Aggies went on the road to open up league play and lost to New Mexico State in a close game and then were blown out by Louisiana Tech two nights later. The preseason pick to win the league by both the media and coaches has their work cut out for them if they hope to win the league title for a third consecutive season.
1) Louisiana Tech, 14-2 (2-0)
2) San Jose State, 8-5 (1-0)
3) Fresno State 8-7 (1-0)
T4) Idaho 8-5 (1-1)
T4) Nevada, 9-6 (1-1)
T4) Hawai’i, 8-7 (1-1)
T4) New Mexico State, 8-7 (1-1)
T8) Utah State, 10-6 (0-2)
T8) Boise State, 9-6 (0-2)
The league saw a significant drop in scoring in the first weekend of games. Perhaps the familiarity of the offensive sets and plays had something to do with that but after two games Louisiana Tech leads the league in scoring and is averaging 79.5 points per game. Five of the nine teams are averaging less than 70 points per game (in non-conference play seven of nine teams averaged at least 73 points per game) and Utah State has struggled to find their offense scoring just 56 points per game through two contests.
Boise State (9-6, 0-2)
The week’s results: 01/02 L @ Fresno State, 71-68, 01/05 @ Hawai’i, 76-68
Upcoming games: 01/09 vs. New Mexico State, 01/11 vs. Louisiana Tech
The Broncos opened conference play on the road and were dealt two losses. The Broncos led Fresno State nearly the entire game but Fresno State’s Paul George hit a layup and drew a foul on Boise State’s Robert Arnold to give Fresno State a 68-66 lead with 48.5 seconds left. After Boise State tied the game up with 22.6 seconds left Paul George got another layup and was fouled giving the Bulldogs a 71-68 lead. The Broncos were unable to hit the three-pointer as time expired as they let one slip away. Against Hawai’i the Broncos trailed big early falling behind 21-7 with 8:59 left in the first half but by halftime they had erased the 14 point deficit and took a 28-27 lead into the break. The Warriors went on a 12-2 run in the second half and built a lead they would not relinquish. Boise State’s Daequon Montreal leads the Broncos in scoring in league play averaging 20 points per game and is sixth in the league in scoring through two conference games. The Broncos are the second best team in the league in steals and are averaging 6.5 steals per game. Despite their two losses the Broncos lead the league in assists per game averaging 15.0 per game. The Broncos host New Mexico State and league leading Louisiana Tech this coming week. A minimum split of these two games at home is a must if the Broncos want to keep from falling behind in the league race.
Fresno State (8-7, 1-0)
The week’s results: 01/02 W vs. Boise State, 71-68
Upcoming games: 01/09 vs. Hawai’i, 01/11 vs. San Jose State
The Bulldogs played just one league game last week but they made it count as they rallied at home to defeat Boise State. Paul George’s 21 points in the conference opener included two three-point plays in the final minute as they erased a 7 point deficit with 5:10 left to play. George was 11-of-12 from the free throw line in the game. The Bulldogs have a very favorable schedule to start league play with five of the first seven at home. Fresno State leads the league in free throw percentage and are hitting 75 percent of their attempts. They are also fourth in the league in steals averaging 6.0 steals per game. The Bulldogs host Hawai’i and San Jose State this coming week, a pair of games that the Bulldogs must win to establish themselves as an upper tier team in the conference.
Hawai’i (8-7, 1-1)
The week’s results: 01/03 L vs. Idaho, 59-52, 01/05 W vs. Boise State, 76-68
Upcoming games: 01/09 @ Fresno State, 01/11 @ Utah State
The Warriors split their opening weekend’s conference games as they fell 59-52 to Idaho in a defensive struggle. The Warriors trailed 40-26 with 16:30 left to play but cut the Vandal lead down to four at 49-45 with 3:18 left to play but could get no closer. The two teams combined to go just 26-of-43 from the free throw line as Hawai’i hit 14-of-21 and Idaho hit 12-of-22. The Warriors rebounded two nights later as they hosted Boise State. They used a 12-2 run early in the second half to put themselves comfortably ahead and then used a 14-for-15 performance from the free throw line in the final seven minutes to seal the deal. In stark contrast to their previous game the Warriors hit 20-of-26 free throws (76.9 percent). The Warriors lead the league in scoring defense through two games allowing just 63.5 points per game. They are also third in the league in free throw percentage at 72.3 and have attempted the most free throws in the league with 47 attempts. Paul Campbell leads the league in field goal percentage at 87.5 percent having hit 14-of-16 shots through two games. The Warriors go on the road to Fresno State and Utah State this week. A split of the two games would be considered a huge plus for the team.
Idaho (8-5, 1-1)
The week’s results: 01/03 W @ Hawai’i, 59-52, 01/04 L @ San Jose State, 78-75
Upcoming games: 01/09 vs. Louisiana Tech, 01/11 vs. New Mexico State
The Vandals split their road trip to Hawai’i and San Jose State as they held on for a hard fought 59-52 victory over Hawai’i but fell to the Spartans by three in a back-and-forth battle in San Jose. Both teams shot above 50 percent for the game. Mac Hopson led Idaho with 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Idaho held a six point lead early in the second half but were undone by a six-minute offensive drought. Idaho is second in the league in three point percentage hitting 37.8 percent of their threes (14-of-37) and tops in the league in three point defense as opponents have hit just 7-of-28 through two league games. The Vandals host league leading Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State this coming week and a sweep at home would put the Vandals in prime position as they play five of their next six conference games at home.
Louisiana Tech (14-2, 2-0)
The week’s results: 01/02 W vs. Nevada, 77-71, 01/04 W vs. Utah State, 82-60
Upcoming games: 01/09 @ Idaho, 01/11 @ Boise State, 01/14 vs. Fresno State
Doubters of Louisiana Tech’s gaudy 12-2 record in non-conference play were quickly silenced as the Bulldogs had a pair of statement victories to open league play. The Bulldogs held off Nevada 77-71 and then obliterated preseason favorite Utah State 82-60. Jamel Guyton led the way for the Bulldogs against the Wolf Pack scoring 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting and 6-of-7 shooting from the free throw stripe he added six rebounds and three steals and played 38 minutes. Kyle Gibson played all 40 minutes against the Pack and added 17 points, seven rebounds and a pair of steals. Against Utah State the Bulldogs trailed 2-0 but a three pointer gave them a 3-2 lead five minutes into the game and they would not trail for the remainder. The Bulldogs held a 33-point lead at 69-36 before eventually winning by 22. Magnum Rolle finished the game with 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting and added 14 rebounds for another double-double. Louisiana Tech hit 53.3 percent of their field goals, 50 percent of their three point attempts (7-of-14) and 73.3. percent of their free throws (11-of-15) in the rout. The Bulldogs lead the conference in scoring at 79.5 points per game and have a +14.0 scoring margin per game, the second best margin in the league is +3.0 (Fresno State and San Jose State). The Bulldogs are second in the legaue in field goal percentage having hit 50 percent of their shots, they are also the best field goal percentage defense allowing just 41.6 percent of their opponents shots to go in. To go along with the defensive effort the Bulldogs lead the league in steals per game at 7.5. The Bulldogs will look to further silence their critics as they travel to the state of Idaho this weekend to face Idaho and Boise State.
Nevada (9-6, 1-1)
The week’s results: 01/02 W @ Louisiana Tech, 77-71, 01/04 W @ NMSU, 77-67
Upcoming games: 01/09 vs. San Jose State, 01/13 vs. Utah State
The Wolf Pack earned a road split in one of the most difficult road trips in the WAC, the Ruston/Las Cruces trip. After dropping a game to Louisiana Tech to start the conference season, the second consecutive season in which they’ve dropped the season opener, the Wolf Pack rebounded with a commanding victory over New Mexico State. Though the final margin in the victory over New Mexico State was just 10 points, there was little drama in the second half. Leading by just seven at the break the Wolf Pack never allowed the Aggies to get closer than five points (41-36) and held a 17-point lead at 71-54 with 3:43 remaining to play. Luke Babbitt played 39 minutes and scored a game high 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He finished 10-of-14 from the floor and a perfect 3-of-3 from behind the three point arc. It was Babbitt’s seventh 20-plus point performance and fifth consecutive. It was also his 10th double-double in 15 games this season. The Wolf Pack lead the league in rebounding margin at +8.0 per game and are averaging 40.5 rebounds per game. They also lead the league in offensive rebounds per game at 13.5 and defensive rebounds per game at 27.0 per game. Lack of bench production continues to be a concern for the Wolf Pack as an article earlier this week by the Reno Gazette-Journal’s beat writer Chris Murray reported that Nevada’s bench contributes just 43 minutes per game, lowest in the league. They score just 11.7 points per game, third worst in the league. The Wolf Pack host their next three conference games as San Jose State, Utah State and Idaho all come to Reno.
New Mexico State (8-7, 1-1)
The week’s results: 01/02 W vs. Utah State, 55-52, 01/04 L vs. Nevada, 77-71
Upcoming games: 01/09 @ Boise State, 01/11 @ Idaho
New Mexico State grinded out a 55-52 victory over Utah State to string together their fifth victory of the season. Jonathan Gibson’s jumper with 17 seconds remaining gave the southern Aggies a three point lead and when Utah State’s three pointer with three seconds left hit iron New Mexico State fans breathed a sigh of relief. The Aggies went through a six minute scoring drought allowing Utah State to climb back into the game but solid defense down the stretch, a rarity in Las Cruces this season, enabled the southern Aggies to hang on for the victory. Unfortunately for Marvin Menzies and his crew the euphoria was short lived as Luke Babbitt and Nevada strolled into town two nights later. The Wolf Pack dominated the Aggies from start to finish. The Aggies never led in the game and there was just one tie, 2-2, 2:18 into the game. The Aggie defense had no answer for Luke Babbitt and he scored inside and outside on the Aggies and finished with 26 points. The Aggies did have five players finish in double-figures in scoring, generally a stat that leads to a win, however, the Aggies’ high-scoring combo of Jahmar Young and Jonathan Gibson mustered only 27 points combined (the duo averaged nearly 40 points per game combined in non-conference play). The Aggies lead the league in turnover margin at +4.0 and are second in the league in scoring defense giving up 64.5 points per game. The high flying Aggie offense has been grounded through two league games and are averaging 61.0 points per game, only bettering the 56.0 points per game their fellow Aggies from Logan have put up through two games. New Mexico State takes the trip to the state of Idaho as they face Boise State and Idaho this weekend. The Aggies and Broncos have had some wild affairs the past several seasons and the Aggies have never had a particularly easy time in Moscow, even when the Vandals were way down. Their largest margin of victory over Idaho is just 10 points and last season they suffered their first loss at Idaho since joining the league in the 2005-06 season.
San Jose State (8-5, 1-0)
The week’s results: 01/04 W vs. Idaho, 78-75
Upcoming games: 01/09 @ Nevada, 01/11 @ Fresno State, 01/14 vs. Boise State
The Spartans played just one conference game on opening weekend but they made it count. SJSU squeaked by Idaho in an offensive slugfest. Both teams shot above 50 percent from the game but it was Adrian Oliver’s three pointer late in the game that proved to be the difference maker. The Spartans won a conference opener for the first time since the 1998-99 season. Adrian Oliver led the Spartans with 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting. C.J. Webster added 21 points and 11 rebounds on 10-of-14 shooting. The Spartans are second in the league in scoring at 78.0 points per game and are second best in the league in free throw shooting hitting 73.3 percent of their attempts. The Spartans will fully kick off the conference season with road trip to face Nevada and Fresno State followed by a home contest against Boise State. A 2-1 stretch in the three games could signal that San Jose State is ready to get out of the WAC basement.
Utah State (10-6, 0-2)
The week’s results: 01/02 L @ NMSU, 55-52, 01/04 L @ Louisiana Tech, 82-60
Upcoming games: 01/11 vs. Hawai’i, 01/13 @ Nevada
Shellshocked. That’s what the Aggie faithful must be feeling after a shocking 0-2 road trip to open conference play. After losing a grinder against New Mexico State in a game that favored the northern Aggies, Utah State went on the road and suffered their second worst loss in conference play since joining the WAC (a 100-70 loss at New Mexico State in the 2007-2008 season was the worst). The last time the Aggies started 0-2 in the WAC they were 10-3 heading into league play and finished just 9-7 but advanced to the conference championship game before falling to host New Mexico State by two. It’s no time to panic if you’re a Utah State fan. History is on your side. Two games into the conference season the Aggie offense is nowhere to be found. The Aggies are averaging a league worst 56 points per game. The Aggies are second worst in the league in three point shooting 23.1 percent a departure from their normally hot three point shooting. Utah State hosts Hawai’i as they try to get in the win column and then two days later they travel to Reno for they always contentious battle with the Wolf Pack.
- 01/09 – Idaho vs. Louisiana Tech – 5:00 p.m. PT
- 01/09 – Fresno State vs. Hawai’i – 7:00 p.m. PT
- 01/09 – Boise State vs. New Mexico State – 7:00 p.m. MT
- 01/09 – Nevada vs. San Jose State – 7:00 p.m. PT
- 01/11 – Fresno State vs. San Jose State – 7:00 p.m. PT
- 01/11 – Idaho vs. New Mexico State – 7:00 p.m. PT (ESPNU)
- 01/11 – Boise State vs. Louisiana Tech – 7:00 p.m. MT
- 01/11 – Utah State vs. Hawai’i – 7:00 p.m. MT
- 01/13 – Nevada vs. Utah State – 8:00 p.m. PT (ESPN2)
- 01/14 – San Jose State vs. Boise State – 7:00 p.m. PT
- 01/14 – Louisiana Tech vs. Fresno State – 8:00 p.m. CT (ESPN Regional)