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
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.
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.