Mountain West Quarterfinal Roundup

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 14th, 2014

Wednesday was a busy day at the Thomas and Mack, with eight quarterfinalists battling for Friday reservations in the MW Tournament semis. Like they have all season, San Diego State and New Mexico found a way to distance themselves from the rest of the league on Thursday, but UNLV and Boise State were forced to work a little harder for their spot in the semifinals. Here are a few thoughts from each of the four MW quarterfinals:

San Diego State-Utah State

No surprises in the opener today. Five days after securing the conference regular season title, San Diego State made clear their intentions to double-dip with a MW Tournament crown, waxing Utah State 73-39. Balance and unselfishness were the themes of the day for the Aztecs, as SDSU had seven different players contribute six or more points, while 19 of their 24 field goals were assisted. Xavier Thames’ season high seven assists paced SDSU in that category. It was a solid day for the Mountain West Player of the Year (who also chipped in 15 points), who also added a season-high seven assists. Steve Fisher obviously hasn’t invented the concept of a scoring point guard here, but the tidbit is a subtle reminder of just how reliant the Aztecs are on their point guard to score the ball. San Diego State’s slow-tempo offense is also built around offensive rebounding and opportunistic finishing, and only three teams assist on a fewer percentage of field goals than the Aztecs. It’s an unconventional offensive formula, but at least on this day, Steve Fisher’s offense kept pace with their spirit-crushing defense.

X(avier) has marked the spot all season long for the Aztecs. On Thursday, the Mountain West Player of the Year contributed 15 points and seven assists in a rout of Utah State. (AP)

X(avier) has marked the spot all season long for the Aztecs. On Thursday, the Mountain West Player of the Year contributed 15 points and seven assists in a rout of Utah State. (AP)

Utah State wasn’t supposed to beat San Diego State, but they also weren’t supposed to lose by 33. It’s been that kind of season for Stew Morrill’s club, who has underachieved significantly in their first go-around in the Mountain West. Unfortunately for the folks up in Logan, the departure of four senior starters means that things may get worse before they get better, but the decades of consistency under Morrill should eventually translate into Mountain West success. As for the possible continuation of this season, the CBI or CIT may come calling for the 18-14 Aggies, but there is no guarantee that the man in charge is ready to accept a bid. When asked about postseason plans after today’s demolition, Morrill’s rhetorical question said it all about this Utah State season — “who the hell are we to think we might go to the postseason?” Read the rest of this entry »

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#rushthetrip Day 11: Logan’s Hidden Gem Left With Little To Cheer About

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 17th, 2014

RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.

Saturday featured a Utah double-dip. My day began with an afternoon matinee in Logan (Utah State-UNLV) and would close up some 120 miles South in Orem, where WAC leader Utah Valley (yup…) was hosting Idaho. To be fair, my day actually began at 7:30 AM in Butte, MT, where some inclement weather had me holed up for the night. I wasn’t sure if my Chevy Malibu, replete with Arizona plates, would have the juice to push through the snowy conditions, but I somehow arrived in Logan just as the Aggies and Rebels were tipping off. Regrettably, I found myself walking through the front doors of The Spectrum just as the “I Believe” chant was dying off, but I figured forty minutes of basketball would provide the boisterous student section ample opportunity to show off.

Saturday Didn't Showcase The Dee Glen Smith Spectrum In It's Brightest Light, But Utah State's Home Floor Is Truly One Of A Kind

Saturday Didn’t Showcase The Dee Glen Smith Spectrum In It’s Brightest Light, But Utah State’s Home Floor Is Truly One Of A Kind

Logan is immediately striking. For one, if you are arriving from the North, there is almost no evidence of the town from 15 (the major freeway that runs North-South through Utah). Imposing mountains frame a valley well off into the distance, but it’s not until you climb a smaller hill in the middle of 15 and Logan that you actually catch sight of the town. From a distance, it’s a looker. Downtown and the University sit directly in the shadows of the mountain range visible from the freeway, but snow-capped peaks can be found in any direction you look. It was obvious before I reached town that Logan’s buildings were older, but the full antiquation of the scene didn’t hit home until I was in the midst of it. The combination of the cloudy day, dated architecture and snowy mountains evoked fairy-tales from decades past, and in a very monochromatic way. Logan is definitely not your classic college town – that was obvious after spending just three hours there.

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Ranking the Mountain West Coaches

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 30th, 2014

Any time you get around to comparing one coach to another, it’s a shaky situation. Isn’t the real decision about who is the better coach decided on the court? Sure, one coach may have more talent than another, but then again, isn’t pulling in talent part of the job description? So, prior to unveiling my rankings of the coaches in the Mountain West, lets offer up some criteria. For the most part, recruiting is excluded from this analysis. The question that we’ll attempt to answer instead is this: Pick any random team in the country — you don’t know its roster or its strengths and weaknesses — which Mountain West coach would give you the best chance over this and the next couple of seasons to get the most out of those players and leave the program in the best possible place at the end?

Well, here’s one man’s take, feel free to disagree.

Steve Fisher, San Diego State

The Dean Of Mountain West Coaches, Steve Fisher Is Among The Best In The Nation. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

  1. Steve Fisher, San Diego State – The results speak for themselves. Not only are the Aztecs the best team in the conference this year, Fisher’s done the most unbelievable job of building a program in the conference. Seriously, his track record at SDSU may not deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as elite program-builders with national titles under their belts like Lute Olson and Jim Calhoun, but this trajectory is very, very close. Put it this way: There’s one sure-fire Hall-of-Famer in this conference and it is this man. He’s head and shoulders above the rest. The knock on him when he was at Michigan was that he could recruit well but wasn’t much of a teacher or a tactician. And earlier in his career at San Diego State, he struggled with some end-game scenarios (the 2006 NCAA Tournament First Round loss to Indiana still upsets me). But these days, his record in unimpeachable. He gets his players to improve from one season to the next and throughout their careers. Even while bringing in solid talent, he gets his team to exceed expectations. The team that he puts on the court is something that his supportive community can be proud of. Not only is Fisher far and away the best coach in the Mountain West, he’s on the very short list of the best in the nation. Read the rest of this entry »
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Bumpy First Ride Through MW For Utah State, But Program Belongs

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 23rd, 2014

Life is not easy on the road in the Mountain West. The conference’s newest member has quickly learned the harsh reality of a league notorious for protecting its home courts, as Utah State dropped its fourth league road game in as many tries Wednesday night, falling 62-42 at UNLV. In a development typical of both conference and program, the Aggies have taken care of business in their two conference home games, but dwindling at-large hopes will only truly be resuscitated away from the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. However, NCAA Tournament or not, Stew Morrill’s program should fast find comfort in its new league. An entrenched coach, a passionate fan base, and a paradigmatic home court all make Utah State a natural fit for the Mountain West. But for now, the Aggies are learning that a step up in class doesn’t always make for the smoothest transition.

After An 0-4 Road Start In MW Play, Preston Medlin And The Aggies Are Looking Forward To Returning Home

After An 0-4 Road Start In MW Play, Preston Medlin And The Aggies Must Be Looking Forward To Returning Home

The last time Utah State switched leagues, it found the changeover a bit more manageable. Back in 2006, Stew Morrill led his charges from the Big West into the WAC, where they went 11-5 in their first regular season, then pushed Nevada to overtime in the WAC Tournament title game. No matter that the WAC brought a significantly enhanced reputation to the table: the Aggies belonged from the get-go. In this round of conference roulette, the MW brings a similar upgrade in class for Utah State. If geography still means anything when it comes to conference affiliation (the AAC may tell you that it doesn’t), the Aggies have positioned themselves in a western league that has to be second to only the Pac-12 in terms of desirability for the Logan, Utah, based school. It’s an elevation well-worth a season – or two, or three – of struggles on the court.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 26th, 2013

We’re a little more than two weeks into the season and the best win among all 11 Mountain West conference teams is: what? New Mexico in a double-overtime miracle over a UAB team that was under .500 last season? Utah State over UC Santa Barbara without its best player? Colorado State over Weber State? Meanwhile, among the dregs of the conference, you’ve got losses to luminaries like Pacific (twice no less), Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, Santa Clara, Milwaukee, Northern Illinois, James Madison, VMI and Jackson State. Not exactly painting a pretty picture, am I? While the Lobos will have plenty of chances over the next three weeks to score some pretty nice non-conference victories, the other best hopes in this conference have pretty slim pickings on their non-conference slates. Outside of this weekend in Orange County at the Wooden Legacy, San Diego State will have to win at Kansas in order to garner a really solid non-conference win; good luck with that. Boise State has a road trip to Rupp Arena in a couple weeks to face Kentucky’s freshmen, otherwise its only “up” game non-conference game prior to the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas is a home game against Saint Mary’s. And Utah State’s only non-conference game of consequence is against BYU on Saturday. In other words, you can not only completely forget about any possibility of five bids to the NCAA Tournament come March, three may be significantly stretching the matter.

Team of the Week

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven't Played Anybody

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven’t Played Anybody.

Boise State – It is slim pickings out there, so we’ll go with the Broncos for their home win over Seattle and road win over New Orleans. Told you it was grim out there.

Player of the Week

Alex Kirk, Jr, New Mexico – Another week, another New Mexico big man. This time it is Kirk for his three double-doubles in the Charleston Classic. For the week, the native New Mexican averaged 21.3 points, 12 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game, and even threw in five three-pointers for good measure. Read the rest of this entry »

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Utah State and Idaho: A WAC Rivalry Shuts Its Doors

Posted by CNguon on February 1st, 2013

Kenny Ocker is a Northwest-based journalist who filed this report after Utah State played Idaho at the Cowan Spectrum in Moscow.

No conference has been more drastically affected by the conference-realignment carousel than the WAC. It has been gutted over the years, first losing Arizona and Arizona State in the late 1970s, then the entire Mountain West in the mid-1990s. Each time, the WAC managed to find new members and persevere, but each time that took a little more of the conference’s luster. But this most recent time may be what takes the WAC down to the also-ran level of the Big West or Big Sky, instead of the mid-sized conference it once was.

And each time, it was tied to football.

Idaho looks to be the biggest victim of this maneuvering, and their current conference rival, Utah State, is partially to blame by taking the void in the Mountain West left by Beehive State brethren BYU and Utah. That move, among others, has left the WAC canceling football and Idaho as an independent. In basketball, it works out much better for the Aggies as well; coach Stew Morrill has long been hesitant to schedule games against teams that won’t play return games in Logan, but that won’t crush his team’s at-large chances anymore now that he will play in a league where top-50 RPI wins can be had regularly. And for the Vandals, it again works out terribly, as they lose the one team they’ve had a consistent geographic rivalry against for more than a decade, especially given the states’ cultural similarities and the school’s similar agriculture roots. (Sure, Seattle may be physically closer to Moscow than Logan, Utah, but the only similarity between the schools is a time zone.)

Utah State big man Jarred Shaw was just a little too much to handle for the Vandals' defense (hjnews.com)

Utah State big man Jarred Shaw was just a little too much to handle for the Vandals’ defense (hjnews.com)

But for one night, anyway, when Utah State ran away, Idaho did something about it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Duke, Title Contenders, USC and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 15th, 2013

tuesdayscribbles

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Over the last week we have seen the number of undefeated teams reduced to zero. Now that every team has a loss, the speculation about which team should be #1 is heating up. Those who adhere to the résumé argument will say that Duke deserves to stay atop the polls despite its Saturday loss to NC State and they are absolutely right. The problem is, in my opinion, that ranking teams based on their résumé  alone is the easy way out. We have a NCAA Tournament Selection Committee who does that for us every year in mid-March. There is more to ranking a team than who it has beat and who it has lost to. There are other factors to consider including statistics and extenuating circumstances. When it comes to the Blue Devils as they are currently constructed, I can’t say they are the best team in the country. Duke is a potent offensive team, but there are other areas for concern. While acknowledging that the efficiency numbers say otherwise, I don’t believe Duke is an elite defensive team. The Blue Devils have allowed 70+ points on only four occasions, but all have come against good competition–Minnesota, Louisville, Santa Clara, and NC State. That tells me when the chips are down against good teams, Duke might not be able to get the stops it needs to win a close game away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. Rebounding is also a concern for Mike Krzyzewski’s team despite having Mason Plumlee in the middle. But perhaps the more immediate concern is the injury to Ryan Kelly who is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Duke has been quiet about it, with Coach K only saying it could be a long-term recovery. This only creates more doubt about a player who is very important to the team’s success. Duke is certainly among the top three or four teams in the country right now, but with Kelly’s uncertainty, some defensive concerns (especially compared to say, Louisville), and the rebounding Achilles heel, I have a hard time saying Duke is the flat out best team in the nation.

    Ryan Kelly's injury is a major concern for Duke.

    Ryan Kelly’s injury is a major concern for Duke.

  2. Watching Connecticut take it to Louisville in the first half of last night’s Big Monday game probably created some doubt about the Cardinals among those watching. Of course, there are two halves to a basketball game and Louisville showed why it was ranked #1 in this week’s poll with a dominant second half against the Huskies. There are two main keys to Louisville’s success: Peyton Siva and team defense. Siva was on the bench for quite some time in the first half with foul trouble, but came back and took over after intermission. Louisville’s defense, after giving up 54% shooting in the first half and likely enduring the wrath of Rick Pitino at halftime, held Connecticut to 24 points on 26% shooting over the final 20 minutes. Louisville’s ability to lock you down is second to none. There is not another team in the nation that combines the quickness and ball pressure of two all-conference guards, tall and agile forwards, depth, and an eraser with a massive wingspan on the back line. If the Cardinals are to win a national championship in Atlanta this April, defense will be the reason why. While Louisville is certainly better offensively than it was last season, I still have some concerns on that end of the floor. Louisville could have a tough time against a team with a good interior defense (Kansas for example) because three-point shooting it a major weakness. Can the Cardinals score in a halfcourt game (as tournament games usually are) against strong competition when they absolutely have to come up with a bucket? In my view, that is still to be determined.  If the answer is yes, Louisville will be your national champion. Read the rest of this entry »
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WAC Tournament Preview & Season Wrap-Up

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2012

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing The WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC. You can follow Sam on Twitter @AgsBleedCrimson.

WAC Tournament Glance

Conference Tournament Preview

It may sound cliché, but the tournament is wide open.

Even though top seed Nevada ran away with the league, the second half of the conference schedule was not a cakewalk. The Wolf Pack won the first seven games by over 10 points per game, but won by just under four points per game in the second go-round (and took a loss against Idaho). There was much jostling in the final weekend of play with seeds two through six up for grabs heading into the final game this past Saturday.

The first round boasts three intriguing matchups with upset potential (seed-based) in all three. New Mexico State struggled to put away Fresno State in both regular season meetings, winning by four and then by five in overtime (overcoming a 19-point second half deficit in the process).

Idaho and Hawai’i split the regular season meetings with each winning on the other’s home floor. 

Utah State swept the season series with Louisiana Tech, but the Bulldogs lost by just four points in the first meeting and has won five of their last six games.

With apologies to San Jose State, they don’t stand much of a chance against Nevada and this one should be a breeze although the Spartans did play tough in the game in San Jose losing by just six points.

Can Wendell McKinnes And New Mexico State Defend Their WAC Tourney Crown? Based On How NMSU Has Been Playing Lately, Don't Bet Against Them (AP)

  • Favorites: Nevada and New Mexico State. They’re the top two seeds and it would be a shame if the two didn’t meet in the championship game.
  • Dark Horses: Idaho and Utah State. Two schools with similar styles of play, well coached (Idaho’s head coach Don Verlin was Stew Morril’s understudy at Utah State) tons of sets in their offense, not likely to beat themselves. Utah State boasts the league’s best coach in Stew Morrill. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 19th, 2012

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing The WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC. You can follow Sam on Twitter @AgsBleedCrimson.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

New Mexico State swept its home conference opening weekend to improve to 3-0 while Nevada dispatched their visitors to improve to 4-0 in league play.  The two remain as the only unbeatens left in WAC play.  Utah State had a troubling trip eastward, getting thumped by 20 in Las Cruces and barely squeezing by Louisiana Tech by four.  Idaho likewise split the Las Cruces/Ruston roadie and both are at .500 in conference play.  LA Tech and San Jose State both remain winless in conference play while Fresno State notched a win over SJSU to get out of the WAC basement for the time being.

Wendell Mckines And New Mexico State Keep Pace With Nevada For The Top Spot In The WAC.

Power Rankings

  1. Nevada (15-3, 4-0): The Wolf Pack hang on to the top spot, barely, thanks to their home sweep last week over San Jose State and Hawai’i.  Deonte Burton continues to terrorize opposing defenses, stating his case for WAC Player of the Year honors.  Burton is not only scoring points, but hitting big shots and taking over games when he needs to.  His 25 points against Hawai’i helped keep the Wolf Pack on top of the WAC.  Despite getting most of their scoring from their starting five, opposing teams haven’t been able to shut those players down and until a team does so, the Pack should be able to stay on top of the league.
  2. New Mexico State (13-5, 3-0): The Aggies had arguably the most impressive weekend, sweeping a home stand of Utah State (by 20) and a better-than-their-record-indicates Idaho squad (by a dozen).  Wendell McKines posted back-to-back double-doubles, his 10th and 11th of the year against Utah State and Idaho, respectively, and got some extra help from fellow post players Hamidu Rahman (23 points, nine rebounds) and Tshilidzi “Chili” Nephawe (22 points, eight rebounds) in the two wins.  When the Aggies head to Honoulu this week, it will mark the second lengthy road trip this season, as they participated in the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage in November. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 5th, 2012

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing The WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.  You can follow Sam on Twitter @AgsBleedCrimson.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • The WAC finished off non-conference play with a few near-misses. Utah State lost by two, 66-64, at Mississippi State, Hawai’i was unable to overtake UNLV, falling 74-69, Idaho came up just short against Boise State, 76-73, but Fresno State extracted some revenge for the conference, shellacking the Broncos 72-59 in Fresno.
  • Meanwhile New Mexico State needed a miracle to overcome Cal State-Bakersfield 73-72. In the game, NMSU lived out a “Butler over Pitt” scenario, giving up a go-ahead free throw with 2.4 seconds to go, but got fouled on the ensuing possession with 0.9 seconds left and hit a pair of free throws to escape with a win. The WAC heads into conference play as the 16th-best conference as rated by the RPI and a 56-50 record in the non-conference.

Utah State Fell By Just Two To An Improved Mississippi State Squad, But Enters WAC Play With Confidence. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Nevada (10-3): The preseason pick to win the WAC heads into league play with the best record in the non-conference portion of play but has not played since December 28. The Wolf Pack open up league play on the road at Idaho and Utah State and a pair of victories to open league play there would definitely put them in the early driver’s seat. Why they won’t win the WAC: Lack of depth. The starters for Nevada score 82.8 percent of their points (56.4 of 68.1). Conference play is a grind and the Wolf Pack starters may eventually succumb to the wear and tear of the pressure of having to produce night in and night out with no scoring help from the bench. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 31st, 2011

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing The WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.  You can follow Sam on Twitter @AgsBleedCrimson.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

Hawai’i picked up the league’s best non-conference win of the season knocking off No. 14 Xavier (albeit a slightly shorthanded Musketeer squad) in the Diamond Head Classic en-route to a 2-1 finish in their home tournament.  New Mexico State got thumped by in-state rival New Mexico at home and Utah State had a relatively easy time in its home tournament.

Zane Johnson Led Hawaii Over Xavier Before Falling To Auburn In The Diamond Head Classic. (AP/Marco Garcia)

Power Rankings

  1. Nevada (10-3): The Wolf Pack avoided a Cedarville trap game and has eight days off to rest before starting WAC play. The Wolf Pack have the best record in non-conference play and boast the best defense in the league allowing just 0.91 points per possession.  Nevada continues to get it done with seemingly little help from the bench in terms of scoring production. That’s something that could hurt them down the road when the rigors of conference play and WAC travel start to take their toll. One thing in the Wolf Pack’s favor is the conference schedule. They’ll get the Idaho/Utah State and New Mexico State/Louisiana Tech road trips out of the way in the first half of the league schedule.
  2. Hawai’i (7-5): The Warriors vault into the number two spot thanks in large part to a solid showing at the Diamond Head Classic where Hawai’i won two out of three: a 65-62 loss to Auburn, an 84-82 overtime victory over 14th ranked Xavier and finally a 75-68 win versus Clemson. In the latter contest, Zane Johnson regained his accuracy and finished with 27 points, bolstered by going 6-12 long distance shooting and center Vander Joaquim produced a 14/10 double-double. UH shot 49% overall and committed just 12 turnovers. It was forward Joston Thomas scoring 26 points and Joaquim scoring 20 in the win over Xavier. Last year’s strong performance in the DHC set the Warriors up for a better-than-expected conference season and their 2-1 record this year could be the catalyst for a strong run through the WAC again. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 16th, 2011

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing The WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.  You can follow Sam on Twitter @AgsBleedCrimson.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

Another mixed bag for the WAC as Nevada posted a win at Montana 70-64, Idaho won at Oregon State 74-60, New Mexico State lost at UTEP 73-69, and Utah State lost at Wichita State 83-76.  The WAC is 38-38 overall as the conference is just under three weeks away from starting conference play.

Stew Morrill's Aggies Have Struggled In Transition From Their Memorable 2010-11 Campaign.

Power Rankings

  1. Nevada (7-3): Don’t look now but the Wolf Pack are on a roll having won four in a row and seven of their last eight. Deonte Burton has led the Pack in scoring in the past three games with outbursts of 31, 28, and 21. The Wolf Pack are making the “winning plays” down the stretch, according to head coach David Carter, and shooting percentages of 44% and 53.6% in the last two second halves attest to that.
  2. Idaho (6-4): The Vandals are starting to find themselves as well having won three of their last four with the loss coming by just a bucket against Washington State.  Deremy Geiger‘s 27 point against Oregon State and Stephen Madison‘s 17 points against Seattle led to a pair of road victories for Idaho.  The two wins have seen Idaho shoot 15-of-29 (51.7%) from behind the three-point arc. Read the rest of this entry »
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