Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences.
A Look Back
Another week in the books, and as we head down the stretch, the back half of the Mountain West schedule may as well be filler on the way to the San Diego State/BYU rematch on February 26 in San Diego. While we still have Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico playing meaningful games with an eye towards at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament, the battle between the Cougars and Aztecs, in addition to being the first MWC basketball game aired on an over-the-air/non-cable network to the entire country, is also one of the most anticipated games of the season. This week both squads took care of business to maintain their exemplary records, but each team has that matchup – a game that will in all likelihood determine the MWC’s regular season champion – sitting prominently in the back of their minds.
- Team of the Week: San Diego State – The Aztecs get the nod based on the strength of a 32-point blowout of Utah and a six-point road win over UNLV. The win over Utah was a complete domination, in which the Aztecs owned every aspect of the game, while the UNLV was a much tighter affair in which SDSU actually found itself trailing for just the second time in the game with three minutes remaining. But the Aztecs came up big down the stretch, knocking down nine of their ten free throws after relinquishing the lead and escaping from enemy territory with a very good win.
- Player of the Week: Jackson Emery, Senior, BYU – Emery often takes a backseat to Jimmer Fredette, but he is a very important cog in the Cougar attack as well. This season Emery has broken Danny Ainge’s all-time BYU steals record, and he added another eight this week – including six against Utah on Saturday, a couple of which helped transform a tight game in the second-half to a runaway BYU victory. He also added 17 points in each game this week, both times on six-of-12 shooting, including knocking down five three-points in the Cougar win over Air Force.
- Newcomer of the Week: Will Clyburn, Junior, Utah – Clyburn continued his consistently strong play for the Utes this week, despite his team adding two more losses to their disappointing record. He averaged 18 points, six rebounds and knocked down three more threes this week.
- Game of the Week: San Diego State 63, UNLV 57 – After an unimpressive first half, the Rebels ratcheted up the pressure in the second half and got back into the game little by little. They played tough, harassing defense, forcing turnovers and earning transition baskets. They got the ball into the heart of the San Diego State defense and scored over and drew fouls on the talented Aztec defense. And then, finally, they regained the lead for just the second time in the game when senior guard Tre’Von Willis scored on a layup with just over three minutes left. And then, from there, they reverted to doing all the bad things that had gotten them in trouble in early games and in the first half. Instead of continuing to attack the Aztec defense, UNLV got three-happy, shooting six threes in the final three minutes, missing all of them, and allowing the Aztecs to beat them from the line.
- Game of the Upcoming Week: UNLV (18-7, 6-5) at Colorado State (17-7, 7-3), 2/19, 4PM PST, The Mtn. – While the battle at the top of the conference is still a week away, this matchup that will help determine third-place in the conference is an intriguing one. The Rams have a two-game lead in the loss column, but a closer look at the schedule shows that they’ve still got trips to BYU and San Diego State ahead, while the Rebels are done taking those beatings for the regular season. But in order for the Rebels to catch up with CSU, they’ll need to pay them back for the loss they were handed at the Thomas & Mack the first time around. In that game, which Willis missed, the Rebels never led and had no answer for the Rams’ talented frontcourt, as Travis Franklin and Andy Ogide combined to score 42 points and grab 16 rebounds. And, in a familiar turn of events, the Rebs struggled mightily shooting the ball, hitting just two of their 15 shots from deep. For UNLV to come out of Fort Collins with a win, they’ll need big games from their interior players like Brice Massamba, Quintrell Thomas and Carlos Lopez, and they’ll need somebody to step up and hit some shots.
1. San Diego State (25-1, 10-1): Chase Tapley and Tim Shelton continued to miss games following their injuries against TCU on February 5, but they are still considered day-to-day. Freshman guard Jamaal Franklin took advantage of the extra minutes to put in a bid for additional playing time when he scored 13 points and grabbed ten rebounds – both career highs – in 17 minutes against Utah. However, in his seven minutes against UNLV, he managed just one rebound and one turnover. Elsewhere, D.J. Gay averaged 17.5 PPG this week, while Kawhi Leonard averaged 13 points and 12 rebounds.
A look ahead: The Aztecs host New Mexico on Wednesday and then travel to Air Force on Saturday.
2. BYU (24-2, 10-1): Fredette continued his great season, he just did it in a slightly different way. Against Air Force, he was typically excellent, with 25 points, five three-pointers and five assists. But against Utah, he struggled out of the gate, missing threes, missing runners and clearly being bothered by the double and triple teams that the Utes threw at him. But, then in the middle of the second half, after a couple of steals by Emery gave the Cougars the momentum, Fredette took the reins and scored 12 straight points and 17 points in the final nine minutes. He still leads the nation in scoring with 27.3 per night. The other big factor in the Utah game was junior guard Charles Abouo, who had a career high 22 points and ten rebounds. Better yet, 17 of those points came in the first half when other Cougars were struggling to score effectively, another example of Dave Rose getting role players to step up in times of need.
A look ahead: A mid-week bye for the Cougars, then a Saturday contest with TCU, which is near enough to a bye.
3. Colorado State (17-7, 7-3): The Rams had just one game this week, but it was a big one, a middle-of-the-pack battle against a New Mexico team that had already beaten CSU earlier this season and was currently riding a four-game winning streak. However, a 17-2 run in the middle of the first half opened this game up early, and the Rams led by as many as 18 in the second half. Eventually, the Lobos did make a run late, but CSU had plenty of people there to answer it and they came away with a big six-point win that probably puts them on the good side of the NCAA bubble. However, with games at BYU and at San Diego State remaining, the Rams need to continue to take care of business.
A look ahead: A Wednesday meeting with TCU, followed by the all-important visit from the Rebels on Saturday. These are two games the Rams really need to win in order to feel comfortable about their Tournament chances.
4. UNLV (18-7, 6-5): A look at the Rebel KenPom page shows an awful lot of green – the color used to denote not only wins on the schedule, but good statistical numbers. You see some darker greens in the defensive efficiency category, turnovers forced, blocked shot percentage, steal percentage, and even two-point field goal percentage, both on the offensive and defensive ends. And in there amongst all the green, there’s this one little red section – red being the color to denote losses on the schedule and ugly numbers in the stats – offensive three-point percentage. The Rebels are currently shooting just 30.5% from three, good for 307th in the nation. Oscar Bellfield and Chace Stanback check in at around 36% for the season, with the rest of the roster clocking in at about 23%. And yet, there were the Rebels, after scraping and scratching and clawing their way back into the game against San Diego State, with the game on the line launching six straight threes in the waning moments in lieu of any other semblance of coherent offense. There are a couple of things to learn here. First, at some point, yes, the Rebels are going to need someone to knock down a three for them. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the Rebels still need to learn that this is not a team built around hoisting the three. While they don’t shoot a lot of them, they can from time to time get three-happy and just start bombing, a poor decision when they are actually an effective offensive team when they work the ball inside. With the three-headed big man of Massamba, Lopez and Thomas starting to come around, with Willis finally starting to look healthy and confident, and with the Rebels needing to finish the regular season strong in order to assure themselves of an NCAA Tournament invite, Lon Kruger needs to get the offensive ship righted, and soon.
A look ahead: UNLV hosts Air Force on Tuesday, then travels to Colorado State on Saturday with revenge on their minds.
5. New Mexico (17-8, 5-5): This week was the tale of two Drews. Against Wyoming, Drew Gordon was dominant. He had 16 points and 18 boards, grabbing 21.4% of all of his team’s missed shots and 27.3% of Wyoming’s missed shots. As a result, despite the Lobos cold shooting and inconsistent offense, New Mexico was able to pull through in the second half and grab a win over the Cowboys. However, on Saturday, it was a different story. Gordon grabbed just three rebounds, turned the ball over six times and committed five fouls on his way to an early exit as the Lobos were without his services for the final four and a half minutes. While Gordon was effective when he was able to find his shot (he made six of his seven field goal attempts for 12 points), too often he panicked when the Rams doubled him and he was unable to move the ball back around to an open teammate. For now, the secret is out on Gordon. If you can send a double-team at him in the post, he’ll turn the ball over, pick up an offensive foul or force up a bad shot. Until he can effectively handle the double team, he can’t be counted on as a key component in the Lobo offense.
A look ahead: The Lobos travel to San Diego State on Wednesday, then face Utah on Saturday. Given that these are two of the biggest teams in the conference, Gordon will get plenty of chances to prove that he can handle a double team.
6. Air Force (13-10, 4-6): The Falcons sole game of the week was a 38-point loss at home against BYU, from which very little was learned on either side of the ball.
A look ahead: On the heels of last week’s fiasco, the Academy travels to UNLV before hosting San Diego State.
7. Utah (10-15, 3-8): The Utes lost two games last week by an average of 22.5 points per game. Despite being the biggest team in the league, they were killed on the glass by SDSU, grabbing less than 50% of the available defensive rebounds and only 25% of the offensive ones. Against BYU, they played much better and kept the Cougars within reach for about 30 minutes, but faded late.
A look ahead: Utah hosts Wyoming on Wednesday, then travels to New Mexico on Saturday.
8. Wyoming (9-16, 2-9): The Fred Langley era is underway in Laramie (and frankly, probably a quarter of the way to its end), and so far so good. The Cowboys played New Mexico tight for about 35 minutes in the first game under the new head coach, then knocked off TCU on Saturday in order to wrest away sole control of eighth place in the conference. While the same old players still make up the roster, sophomore forward Amath M’Baye put together the two best games of his college career this week, setting a career-high of 19 points in the New Mexico game before breaking that one game later with 21 against TCU, while grabbing six rebounds in each game. With Heath Schroyer no longer around trying to save his job, the remainder of this season is simply about finding out who can be building blocks in this program, and early on M’Baye has thrown his hat into the ring as a contributor to the rebuilding of the once proud Wyoming basketball program.
A look ahead: Wyoming travels Salt Lake City for a matchup with Utah, where a win could put the Cowboys in seventh place in the conference.
9. TCU (10-16, 1-10): Another week, another couple of losses. Sophomore Garlon Green averaged 12 points and 8.5 rebounds, senior Greg Hill averaged 13.5 points and Hank Thorns added another 12 assists, but despite some hard work, there just isn’t enough talent here for the Frogs to compete on a regular basis. Give credit to head coach Jim Christian for continuing to get solid effort out of his club, but his days could be numbered.
A look ahead: Home games against Colorado State and BYU mean the Horned Frogs are looking 1-12 straight in the face.