Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 9th, 2011

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

Utah State took care of two more conference opponents with ease and combined with a loss by New Mexico State at Fresno State, is now four games clear with five games left to play and can clinch at least a share of the regular season WAC title for the fourth straight year with a win at Idaho on Wednesday night.  Meanwhile, the race for second place is on.  New Mexico State stumbled on the road at Fresno State, failing to take advantage of a situation where all the teams directly behind them had lost (Nevada, Idaho and Boise State).  The Aggies’ misfortune benefitted the rest of the second place contenders and there remains a logjam with NM State, Nevada, Idaho, Boise State and Fresno State all within two games of each other in the loss column with five games left to play.

Player of the Week: Fresno State’s Greg Smith was named the Player of the Week after he led Fresno State to a home sweep over New Mexico State (88-83, OT) and Louisiana Tech (72-64) last week.  Smith was a perfect 7-7 from the floor and 3-3 from the free throw line against the Aggies, netting 17 points and seven rebounds in just 22 minutes of play as he was limited by foul trouble and fouled out before the overtime period.  Against Louisiana Tech, he scored a team-high 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds, blocked three shots, dished out two assists and had one steal.  For the week, Smith averaged 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. He shot 73.3 percent (11-15) from the field and 81.3 percent (13-16) from the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (22-2, 11-0)

Up Next: 02/09 at Idaho (ESPN2), 02/12 vs. Fresno State

After a close victory against Hawai’i the week before, the UtAgs had no trouble with either opponent last week as they cruised past Nevada 67-45 and then demoralized Boise State 77-49.  Just about the only thing that has gone wrong for USU is center Tai Wesley‘s broken nose at the hand (or in this case elbow) of teammate Brady Jardine.  It’s the second consecutive season that Wesley has suffered a broken nose, last season coming at the hands of New Mexico State in the conference tournament final.  The UtAgs will face former Stew Morrill assistant Don Verlin on Wednesday night in Moscow, Idaho, as they try to wrap up at least a share of their fourth consecutive regular season title with a victory in a nationally televised game on ESPN2.  Then on Saturday, it’s back home as they host Fresno State.

2. New Mexico State (13-12, 7-4)

Up Next: 02/12 at Louisiana Tech

The crimson Aggies let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers as they lost to Fresno State in overtime, coughing up a five-point lead in the final two-and-a-half minutes of regulation.  Nevada, Boise State and Idaho had all lost and the Aggies could have given themselves a small cushion in the race for second place but could not seal the deal despite getting Fresno State big man Greg Smith in foul trouble for the second consecutive meeting.  Smith fouled just before overtime but the Aggies could not take advantage and lost 88-83.  Junior center Hamidu Rahman was knocked out of the game after losing two teeth and did not return and did not suit up in the Aggies’ next game against Louisiana Tech either, however, the Aggies did not need his services, winning easily 75-57.  The win came at a cost as Troy Gillenwater went down with a sprained ankle and is listed as day-to-day.  The Aggies’ hopes of winning the conference tournament for a second straight season hinge on the health of Gillenwater and Rahman.  Up next for New Mexico State is a trip to Ruston for a rematch with the Bulldogs.

3. Nevada (9-14, 6-4)

Up Next: 02/12 at San Jose State, 02/14 at Hawai’i

The Wolf Pack split a pair last week losing at Utah State (67-45) but rebounding for a solid win against San Jose State (89-69).  Nevada was able to keep pace with New Mexico State and their hopes of a second place finish in conference are still very much alive.  The Pack travels to San Jose State on Saturday and then on to Honolulu on Monday.

4. Idaho (13-10, 6-5)

Up Next: 02/09 vs. Utah State (ESPN2), 02/15 at Boise State

The Vandals split their pair of games last week losing to San Jose State 92-89 in double-overtime but bouncing back to defeat Hawai’i 75-61.  With the two teams ahead of them, New Mexico State and Nevada, splitting their respective games the Vandals didn’t lose any ground in the race for second place but a tough test awaits them on Wednesday night as they host No. 17 Utah State on ESPN2.  Then on Saturday, Idaho will travel down to Boise to take on their in-state rivals in a game that could determine which of the two finishes in the top four in conference play.  The Broncos took the first game up in Moscow, 70-67.

5. Fresno State (11-12, 5-6)

Up Next: 01/20 at Hawai’i, 01/24 vs. Seattle

Last rites were prepared to be administered, but the Bulldogs have climbed out of the coffin and re-established life in the WAC. Six consecutive league losses were finally blunted by home victories over New Mexico State (a surprise) and Louisiana Tech (not as much). The match with the Aggies was powered by freshman Kevin Olekaibe‘s 24 points and 17 apiece from sophomores Greg Smith and Garrett Johnson. The latter contest was aided by Smith’s 18 points and 14 from Olekaibe.  Of late, Olekaibe has played himself into Frosh of the Year contention. He leads the Bulldogs in league play scoring with a 14.3 average. Smith checks in at 13.2 points and 8-3 rebounds per contest. Both underclassmen have upped their mainstay numbers versus WAC opponents.  The Bulldogs easily handled Cal State-Bakersfield, 79-49, and now it’s off on the road, first to Boise State and then Utah State. So there is the chance for a-three game winning streak as Steve Cleveland‘s squad is 1-4 on the road in play, and the USU Spectrum is a loss chamber for opposing squads.

6. Hawai’i (13-10, 4-7)

Up Next: 02/14 vs. Nevada

Whether you like them french fried, baked, hash browned or scalloped, tripping to Potato Land proved a mixed meal for the Rainbow Warriors, as a 73-66 win over Boise State was followed by a 75-61 loss to Idaho.  The Boise victory came minus the services of Zane Johnson (concussion-like symptoms) and Trevor Wiseman (academics), plus starting point Hiram Thompson missed time due to a blow to the face early in the game. Thompson then played just eight minutes against Idaho.  Five-foot-nine Jeremiah Ostrowski is a great story. Coming over from the football team as a walk-on, he has sparked the UH backcourt effort — this despite the recent passing of his father. Ostrowski enjoyed 12 points and eight assists against the Broncos.  Sophomore Dominick Brumfield is back eligible again, having cleared up his academics.  Next up in WAC play is visiting Nevada, so expect the distraction ploy of the bikinis getting even smaller on the beach area near the Wolf Pack hotel.

7. Boise State (12-11, 5-6)

Up Next: 02/10 vs. Fresno State, 02/12 vs. Idaho

Things are not well in Broncoland as the team has lost four in a row and six of their last seven conference games.  First they lost at home to Hawai’i, 73-66, it was just the second road conference win for Hawai’i in their past 13 road games.  Then to top it off things were so bad in Logan last week that the Utah State fans started chanting “Here We Go Broncos!” when Boise State was trailing by 30-plus points in the second half ultimately losing 77-49.  The Broncos host a pair of games this week welcoming in Fresno State and in-state rival Idaho.  It’s an important week for the Broncos, a home sweep of the two teams would put them back in contention for a top four spot, however, should they lose both games, they would trail Fresno State in the standings.

8. San Jose State (11-11, 3-8)

Up Next: 02/12 vs. Nevada, 02/15 vs. Montana State

Coming off a 78-66 win over Fresno State, the Spartans visited Idaho and then Nevada. In Moscow, SJSU was down by ten with a little over a minute remaining in regulation play and faced a five-point deficit with just under two minutes remaining in the initial extra period, but came back to win 92-89 in double overtime. Versus Nevada two days later, San Jose State could never cut into the 10-or-so-point Wolf Pack lead and eventually fell 89-69. Nevada out-shot the Spartans 52-% to 39%.  Adrian Oliver remains second in scoring in the WAC at 18.2 points per game and teammate Justin Graham is third with 16.4 PPG. Graham also is second in assists with 4.8 per contest and tops in minutes played at a leg-wearying-just-thinking-about-it 39.2 a game.  Up next is some time off until Nevada comes south for a weirdly scheduled rematch on Saturday.

9. Louisiana Tech (11-12, 2-9)

Up Next: 02/12 vs. New Mexico State, 02/16 vs. North Dakota

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, it’s back to the basement.  After a pair of home wins against the Idaho schools, it was a pair of losses as LA Tech lost 72-64 at Fresno State giving up a 12-point halftime lead, and then falling 75-57 at New Mexico State, a game in which they never really were “in the game” so to speak.    DeAndre Brown continues to be a constant scoring option for the Bulldogs as he rattled of 23 points against Fresno State and dropped in 18 against New Mexico State.  Olu Ashaolu was limited against the Aggies despite the absence of Aggie center Hamidu Rahman.  Ashaolu will get another crack at the Aggie interior on Saturday as the two teams meet for the second time this week.

Caught on Film: Bonus video of the week comes courtesy of the Louisiana Tech women.  Click the link and fast forward to around the 2:00 mark for some postgame extracurriculars following an intense triple-overtime victory.

A Look Ahead

With a fourth straight conference title in the sole reach of Utah State, the race for second place heats up and the teams try to take care of business before next week’s Bracketbusters games.

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 12th, 2011

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

In the first stretch of the WAC play (Wednesday-Monday) the home teams went 8-1, with New Mexico State picking up the only road win. In the second weekend of WAC play (Thursday-Saturday) the road teams went 6-1 with New Mexico State picking up the only home win.  The game of the week and certainly the early frontrunner for the game of the year in the league was Boise State‘s 102-101 quadruple overtime victory at San Jose State.  For most of the season we have believed that the WAC will be a one-bid conference come March, however, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi projected Boise State to win the WAC Tournament and Utah State to earn an at-large bid in this week’s Bracketology.

Player of the Week:

Boise State’s La’Shard Anderson was named Player of the Week after leading Boise State to a pair of WAC road wins at San Jose State (102-101, 4OT) and Hawai‘i (79-55).  Anderson scored a career-high 31 points in Boise State’s quadruple overtime win at San Jose State. He scored 17 of his 31 points during the four overtime periods and scored all four of the Broncos’ points in the final overtime.  Anderson followed that up with 20 points in BSU’s win at Hawai‘i and hit five of six shots from three-point range.  For the week, Anderson averaged 25.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 55.2 percent (16-29) from the field and 75.0 percent (6-8) from three-point range. He also hit 72.2 percent (13-18) of his shots at the free throw line.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (14-2, 3-0)

Up Next: 01/13 at Boise State, 01/15 at Fresno State

Utah State picked up one of the six road wins by WAC teams as they overcame a ten-point deficit in the second half to win by 14 at Nevada.  Utah State torched the Wolf Pack defense in the second half, shooting 69.2 percent from the field.  Surprisingly enough, the UtAgs only hit two three pointers in the second half during the comeback. Tai Wesley went for 21 points and eight rebounds, Brockeith Pane added 17 points and Brady Jardine scored 14.  The trio combined to shoot 20-27 from the floor (74 percent).  The Aggies continue their road journey as they travel to Boise for a first place showdown between the league’s only remaining unbeatens.  They’ll then wrap up the road trip at Fresno State against the second-place Bulldogs.

2. Boise State (11-5, 4-0)

Up Next: 01/13 vs. Utah State, 01/15 vs. Nevada (ESPN Full Court)

Boise State continued to impress as they notched their first road conference sweep since prior to joining the WAC as they survived a 102-101 quadruple overtime battle with San Jose State and then easily dispatched of Hawai’i, 79-55.  The biggest test of the season comes on Thursday night, as they host Utah State in a battle for first place in the WAC.  A win by Boise State would send a strong message to the rest of the league that the path to the title could go through Boise in their final season in the WAC.  The Broncos are hoping to start 5-0 in conference play for the first time since the 1987-88 season when they won seven in a row to start Big Sky play. Following their showdown with Utah State, they’ll host Nevada.

3. Idaho (9-6, 3-1)

Up Next: 01/12 vs. Nevada (ESPN2), 01/15 at CS-Bakersfield, 01/17 at Fresno State

Like their in-state brethren, the Vandals also swept the Hawai’i/San Jose trip to improve to 3-1 in league play.  After struggling through an up-and-down (mostly down) non-conference schedule, the Vandals have found whatever it was they were missing in the first semester.  After a solid defensive performance against Hawai’i, holding the Warriors to just 44 points, the Vandals overcame an eight-point halftime deficit to surge past San Jose State.  Idaho shot 66.7 percent in the second half and finished with five players scoring in double figures.  Idaho hosts Nevada in a nationally televised game on ESPN2 then heads to the state of California for a pair of road games as they’ll face Cal State-Bakersfield on Saturday night and Fresno State on Monday night.

4. Fresno State (7-7, 3-1)

Up Next: 01/15 vs. Utah State, 01/17 vs. Idaho

After newcomer Tim Steed injured an ankle in the Bulldogs’ win against Nevada, he sat out both road games against Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State.  Though Steed-less, coach Steve Cleveland‘s squad took a 63-56 win. The momentum was slowed next game though as New Mexico State is tough to top in Las Cruces and that’s exactly how it played out in an 80-68 loss to the Aggies.   Next up are two toughies: Utah State plays in Fresno on the 15th and Idaho the same on the 17th.  A home sweep would be huge for the Bulldogs, but even a split would be acceptable and would keep them in the top half of the conference standings.  It’s unknown when Steed will be able to return, which is a blow when considering he’s averaging 18 points per game in conference play.  Greg Smith has edged into a team leader, averaging 10.9 points per game, and freshman Kevin Olekaibe is still right there at 10.2. In WAC play, Smith is tied for fifth in rebounding at 7.7 a contest. Steve Shepp ranks second in the league with 4.5 assists per game.

5. New Mexico State (8-9, 2-1)

Up Next: 01/13 vs. Hawai’i (ESPN Full Court), 01/15 vs. San Jose State (ESPN Full Court)

The Aggies knocked off Fresno State 80-68 to improve to 2-1 in league play and more importantly, hold serve at home, something the rest of the league’s home teams were unable to do over the weekend.  The Aggies were a hot 57.9  percent in the first half and an even better 58.3 percent in the second half.  They also went to the free throw line a whopping 37 times and were able to convert 26 of those attempts (70.3 percent).  The Aggies have shot 472 free throws this season, which is nearly 100 more than their opponents.  Up next for the Aggies are a pair of dangerous winless WAC foes in Hawai’i and San Jose State.

6. Nevada (4-12, 1-2)

Up Next: 01/12 at Idaho (ESPN2), 01/5 at Boise State

The learning experiences continue for the Wolf Pack as they dropped their showdown against Utah State 81-67 after leading by as many as ten in the second half.  Duke transfer Olek Czyz continues to dominate WAC defenses as he scored 25 against Utah State in the loss and he leads the league in scoring in conference play at 24.7 points per game.  A pair of tough road tests await the young Nevada squad as they’ll travel to Moscow to take on Idaho in a nationally televised game, and then will face league-leading Boise State.  Earning at least a road sweep is critical for the Wolf Pack if they want to keep a top four seed in the WAC tournament in their grasp.

8. San Jose State (8-7, 0-4)

Up Next: 01/13 at Louisiana Tech, 01/15 at New Mexico State (ESPN Full Court)

Opening WAC play with road losses to Utah State and then Fresno weren’t all that unusual. But those were followed by home defeats at the hands of Boise State (102-101 in four overtimes) and then Idaho 75-67.  Heading to Louisiana Tech on the 13th followed by New Mexico State on the 15th are critical games for the Spartans and earning at least a split is a must.   Fifth-year seniors Adrian Oliver and Justin Graham have generally been consistent but no third (or fourth) player has stepped each game day. Sophomore junior college transfer Brylle Kamen has moved into the SJSU lineup, replacing Matt Ballard in the middle. Oliver is currently fifth in scoring in the WAC at 19.8 points per game. Graham ranks second with 5.8 assists a contest.

8. Hawai’i (9-7, 0-3)

Up Next: 01/13 at New Mexico State, 01/15 at Hawai’i

Who are the Rainbow Warriors? The team that roared out of the chute with a sparkling early record or the one that currently is winless in the WAC (losses to Utah State and Nevada on the road, losses to Idaho and Boise State at home)? The respective 44 and 55-point outputs against the Vandals and Broncos are of concern as Gib Arnold‘s team isn’t showing the ability to penetrate nor a talent for dropping in the outside shot of late.  Next is tripping to New Mexico State, followed by a detour to Louisiana Tech.  The Warriors are 0-3 on the road this season and winning on the road is a must in this league.  Senior center Bill Amis is rusty having missed a bevy of games due to injury so Hiram Thompson and Zane Johnson, the veritable team elders, need to step up and produce. Dominick Brumfield, a junior college newcomer upfront, is also getting back into playing shape so UH has the possibility of being a better team further down the road simply based on the return of Amis to his previous level and Brumfield adjusting to D-I play. Center Vander Joaquim is seventh in the conference in rebounding at 7.8 a game and is shooting 63%, sixth in the WAC.

9. Louisiana Tech (9-7, 0-3)

Up Next: 01/13 vs. San Jose State, 01/15 vs. Hawai’i

Is it time to hit the panic button in Ruston? It very well may be if they are unable to pick up at least one win this weekend against fellow winless conference mates San Jose State and Hawai’i.  The Bulldogs lost Round I of the Battle of the Bone as Fresno State won 63-56 despite playing without one of their top players.  The news doesn’t get any better for Louisiana Tech either as they will be without sophomore starter Brandon Gibson the remainder of the season as he underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered against Boise State on December 29th.  Gibson was fourth on the team in steals (13), third on the team in scoring (9.2 PPG), second in rebounds (5.1 RPG) and first in blocked shots (14).  It’s not good news, as the Bulldogs are dead least in offensive output (54.3 PPG).  Winning at home is crucial this weekend as the next pair of conference games will be at Utah State and at Nevada.

A Look Ahead

All eyes will be on Boise on Thursday night as Boise State and Utah State battle for first place and on Saturday fans will be watching with great interest as Fresno State hosts Utah State.  Also this weekend at least one of the WAC’s winless teams will get off the mat as SJSU (0-4) and Hawai’i (0-3) both visit Louisiana Tech (0-3).

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