Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.
A Look Back
It took the Aggies two tries, but Utah State clinched a share of their fourth consecutive regular season title this past week. Idaho smothered the UtAgs in Moscow, 64-56, holding Utah State to just 33.8 percent shooting to delay the inevitable for one more game. Idaho head coach Don Verlin, a former long-time Stew Morrill assistant, pulled out the “box and one” defense because he said he knew there was nothing in the USU playbook to counter it. Bravo Don Verlin. Bravo. USU clinched three nights later back at home with a 71-55 romp in Logan over Fresno State. Elsewhere, New Mexico State escaped potential disaster in Ruston. With losses by Idaho (at Boise State, 69-63) and Nevada (at Hawai’i, 69-67 OT), New Mexico State now sits alone in second place. The race for the all-important top four spots now has a new participant in the form of Hawai’i. UH’s win over Nevada, coupled with the aforementioned loss by Idaho, means there is just a two-game separation between third place and sixth in the conference standings.
Player of the Week: Nevada’s Malik Story was named the Player of the Week for February 7–13 as he scored a career-high 29 points to lead Nevada to just its second road win of the season in an 84-76 overtime win at San Jose State. He made 11 of 21 (52 percent) shots from the field, including three three-pointers. He also made four of five free throws and dished out a career-high six assists to go along with four rebounds and two steals.
1. Utah State (23-3, 12-1)
Up Next: 02/16 vs. Montana Western, 02/19 at St. Mary’s (ESPN2)
Champs. For the fourth consecutive season the Utah State Aggies have laid claim to the WAC’s regular season title. After having their WAC record 25-game regular season win streak halted at Idaho, the UtAgs bounced back with a 71-55 thumping of Fresno State. The Aggies take a break from conference play this week and host Montana Western and then travel to Moraga, Calif. to take on St. Mary’s in the marquee matchup of the ESPNU Bracketbusters event.
2. New Mexico State (14-12, 8-4)
Up Next: 02/19 vs. Northern Colorado, 02/23 at San Jose State
Playing without top point scorer Troy Gillenwater (out with ankle injury) the Aggies survived at Louisiana Tech overcoming a sluggish 1-10 shooting start to eek out a one-point victory over the Bulldogs. The win keeps New Mexico State in second place in the standings as they head into the homestretch. The Aggies have five tough games ahead of them to finish out the regular season as they’ll host Northern Colorado for Bracketbusters and then head out on the road to San Jose and Hawai’i. Their largest margin of victory against either team on the road since joining the WAC has been just 11 points.
3. Nevada (10-15, 7-5)
Up Next: 02/19 vs. UC-Irvine
The Wolf Pack took to the road on the grueling San Jose/Honolulu trip and went to overtime in both games. The Pack were fortunate to come away with the split as the Spartans led 72-68 with 20 seconds left and 72-70 with possession of the ball with six seconds left. However, freshman point guard Deonte Burton came away with a steal and despite a missed layup by Jerry Evans Jr., Olek Czyz grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled by SJSU’s Adrian Oliver. Czyz nailed both free throws to send it into overtime where the Wolf Pack prevailed 84-76. Nevada was not so fortunate two nights later as they found themselves on the wrong end of an overtime loss falling 69-67 to Hawai’i. The loss dropped them a game behind New Mexico State for second place in the standings. Nevada visits Las Cruces during the final week of the season, where that secnd place seed could be on the line. Up next, the Wolf Pack host UC-Irvine for Bracketbusters.
4. Boise State (14-11, 7-6)
Up Next: 02/19 at UC-Santa Barbara
A pair of victories last week by the Broncos has righted the ship for now. Boise State took down Fresno State and then notched an all-important win over in-state rival Idaho to sweep the season series and give them the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Vandals. The game was televised on ESPNU and over 12,000 fans were in attendance, the largest crowd at Taco Bell Arena in several seasons. Remarkably, the two-game win streak comes on the heels of a demoralizing 77-49 loss at Utah State. Boise State shot a near-perfect 19-21 from the free throw line and a perfect 9-9 in the second half, including six in the final 90 seconds, to seal the win. The Broncos travel to Santa Barbara to take on UCSB for Bracketbusters.
5. Idaho (14-11, 7-6)
Up Next: 02/19 at Montana State
It was another split, as the Vandals experienced the highest of highs (knocking off a ranked team) and the lowest of lows (losing to an in-state rival) last week. Utah State came into the Kibbie Dome and left with their first regular season conference loss in the past 26 games. Idaho held Utah State to their lowest shooting percentage of the season, 33 percent. Unfortunately, the euphoria did not last long, as they traveled south to Boise to take on their in-state rivals Boise State. Idaho jumped out to a five-point lead seven minutes into the game and led by five points with 8:46 left to play, but could not hold on. The loss puts their record at 7-6 and currently in fifth place in the standings due to losing the head-to-head series with Boise State. Up next for Idaho is a date in Bozeman with Montana State for Bracketbusters.
6. Hawai’i (14-10, 5-7)
Up Next: 02/14 vs. Nevada
Heal thyself. That’s been the UH basketball mantra during an off week what with Hiram Thompson receiving stitches after the last game and Zane Johnson shaking off concussion-like symptoms. The Rainbow Warriors faced Nevada on Monday night and a little T and R did the job to the tune of a 69-67 overtime victory. Senior forward Bill Amis contributed 16 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots. Junior center Vander Joaquim came close to a double-double with 24 points and nine boards. This after an earlier matchup in Reno between these two teams resulted in an 86-69 Hawaii loss. The win, however, did not come without a price as starting point guard Hiram Thompson landed awkwardly on his arm and could have ligament damage that could end his season. Next up is a trip to the mainland to face UC-Davis of the Big West Conference in a Brackerbusters contest.
7. Fresno State (11-14, 5-8)
Up Next: 02/16 at Cal State-Bakersfield, 02/19 vs. UC-Riverside
Remember when Rulon Gardner beat Alexander Karelin in 2000 for the Olympic gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling? This after Karelin had been undefeated for 12 years. Fresno State must have felt like Karelin’s next opponent did, because the Bulldogs had the unenviable task of facing Utah State after Stew Morrill’s squad had just lost to Idaho. The final score; 71-55, in a game not as close as the final score indicates. This was preceded by a 75-61 defeat in Boise. In the loss in Logan, center Greg Smith produced two points and three boards in 30 minutes of play and the team shot 4-20 from long distance. A possible pro, a ‘big’ at that, is a terrible thing to waste. A return match at nearby Cal State-Bakersfield followed by a meeting with UC-Riverside in a Bracketbusters matchup are next in line for the Bulldogs. The opportunity to reverse fortunes, at least in out-of-league action, is there for the taking.
8. San Jose State (12-12, 3-9)
Up Next: 02/18 vs. Weber State
The Spartans have OD’d on Nevada, losing to the Wolf Pack on each of the last two Saturdays. The first was an 89-69 defeat in Reno as the Wolf Pack literally shot out to a double-digit lead and maintained it throughout the game. The rematch in San Jose proved to be an overtime one but yet another loss for SJSU 84-76. In the latter, San Jose State had a four point lead in regulation with 24 seconds to play but Nevada managed to tie the score. The Spartans took care of Montana State on Tuesday night winning 77-73 as Adrian Oliver notched his second straight 30-plus point game to go along with ten rebounds for a double-double. Weber State comes to town for a Bracketbusters pairing.
9. Louisiana Tech (11-13, 2-10)
Up Next: 02/16 at North Dakota, 02/19 vs. Georgia State
The Bulldogs nearly pulled up the upset of second place New Mexico State but a pair of late free throws put them behind 50-49 and a last second desperation three from DeAndre Brown clanked off the rim. The Bulldogs held an 11-point lead midway through the first half but could not hold on to the lead. The loss keeps them in the WAC basement where it looks like they’ll be battling with San Jose State for the final spot in the WAC tournament the rest of the season. This week it’s a pair of non-conference games including a home date with Georgia State for Bracketbusters.
A Look Ahead
It’s all non-conference this weekend as the WAC participates in Bracketbusters. Utah State heads to Moraga, California, to take on St. Mary’s in the the WAC’s only televised Bracketbusters game.