Conference Tournament Primer: Western Athletic Conference

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with the last five conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the final push of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the O26 tourneys starting are the Big Sky, Big West, Sun Belt and WAC.

Dates: March 13-15
Site: Orleans Arena (Las Vegas, NV)

(cbssports.com)

(cbssports.com)

What to expect: It’s been a strange time for the pillaged WAC, a conference that saw seven of its 10 teams from last year defect for greener pastures in the offseason. The overhauled league consists now of just eight tournament-eligible programs, and only two of them – New Mexico State and Utah Valley – were reliably competitive in 2013-14. The Aggies, by far the most talented bunch, will be without leading assist man K.C. Ross-Miller this week, suspended following an on-court brawl in the team’s recent loss to UVU. It’s a tough break for a squad that was expected to dominate its less-talented conference-mates this season. After underwhelming and under-performing on the road numerous times throughout WAC play, though, and now without a key player, NMSU’s quest for the automatic bid seems like far less of a sure thing. Still, even without Ross-Miller and despite the inconstancy, Marvin Menzies’ group – one of the tallest in the country – should have enough firepower to reach its third-straight NCAA Tournament.

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Even More Notes From the Mountain West, Atlantic 10 and WAC Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament, Joe Dzuback at the Atlantic 10 Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournaments, they will each post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for tonight’s pair of championship games and the A10 semis.

Mountain West Finals: San Diego State 55, UNLV 45

  • The only logical place to begin here is with Kawhi Leonard, who was dominant tonight. The line speaks for itself: 21 rebounds (a career high), including seven on the offensive end. 16 points. Holding Tre’Von Willis to 4/12 shooting from the floor (and at least two of those field goals came when SDSU inexplicably switched to zone at the start of the 2nd half). And throw in a couple assists and a couple steals for good measure. He definitely presents matchup problems for every team in the MWC, and he will present problems for teams across the country. Throw a smaller, quicker guy on him and Leonard will dominate in the paint; put a big man on him and he can step outside and use his face-up game. In the postgame press conference, UNLV head coach Lon Kruger was asked about the possibility of having to deal with Leonard for three more years, and the look that crossed his face (a combination of a knowing smile and a grimace) was priceless before he went on to spend a couple minutes singing Leonard’s praises. While New Mexico’s Darington Hobson and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette rightly are regarded as the best players in the conference, it is Leonard who is the most talented player in the conference.
  • Willis tweaked his ankle late in the game on Friday night, and while he played without incident tonight, he was likely not as explosive as he was earlier in the tournament. How much of that had to do with the ankle and how much was the Leonard factor is up for debate, but Coach Kruger of course brushed off any notion that Willis was hampered by the ankle.
  • The vaunted UNLV homecourt advantage turned out to be much less of an issue tonight than it was either last night or even on Thursday night in the quarterfinal. Maybe it was the earlier start, or maybe it was the Aztec fans’ inability to provoke the UNLV fans into a cheering confrontation as Utah and BYU fans did, but while the Rebel fans sure got loud when Larry Johnson and Jerry Tarkanian were shown on the scoreboard, they were never really a huge factor in the game.
  • Last night in this space I talked up UNLV junior center Brice Massamba quite a bit. Tonight? Um, who? Massamba’s totals: 18 minutes, five fouls, two rebounds, two turnovers.
  • Now, time for me to admit a couple areas where I was dead wrong. This doesn’t happen often (not me being wrong, I’m wrong a lot, I just rarely admit it – ask my wife), so soak it up.
  • First, sometime in the middle of the MWC season I wrote that San Diego State junior point guard D.J. Gay was holding his team back and that head coach Steve Fisher should make the move to freshman Chase Tapley at the point. Well, Gay proved me wrong and Fisher right more or less from that point on. While Gay still doesn’t shoot a great percentage from the floor, he has really cut down on the turnovers over the back half of the schedule, and more important than anything the numbers show, he is the leader on this team. Guys like Leonard and Billy White and Malcolm Thomas and even senior Kelvin Davis are all major cogs for this Aztec team, but it is Gay who makes this team go. Look at his numbers over the tournament, and they’re nothing special (in fact, they’re downright awful): less than 8ppg, six of 26 from the field, 10 assists, five turnovers. And yet, they probably don’t get out of the quarterfinals without him (when he hit two clutch free throws at the end to provide the final margin), they certainly don’t get through New Mexico without him and his seven assists and zero turnovers, and tonight it was Gay’s big three in the face of Oscar Bellfield under six minutes that extended the Aztec lead above one possession for the first time since very early in the second half. Throw in the fact that the guy played 119 of a possible 120 minutes in this tournament (and the minute that he was out the Aztecs looked lost) and its clear Gay brings more to this team than his numbers would indicate. And, just to extend my praise of the guy, he is also a well-spoken, funny kid.
  • The other place I was wrong is about Fisher. For several years now, I have been critical of some of Fisher’s in-game coaching and even his ability to bring along talent. While I thought his decision to open the second half in a zone for a couple of possessions was a similarly goofy decision, there’s really no questioning what he has done with this team. The vast improvement this team has made since opening night when they were absolutely drilled by St. Mary’s is clear and he has really gotten a talented team to buy into team over individual fully. Now, I’ll admit some of this may be because Fisher was just so charming and effusive in his press conferences that he won me over (tonight’s great Fisher quote, on winning the recruiting battle of Leonard over some Pac-10 schools: “we don’t need to get down on kneepads to recruit against the Pac-10.”), but the fact that he has taken a SDSU program with little history and put them in the postseason in seven of his 11 seasons, including now three NCAA visits, says all that needs to be said about Fisher’s ability to coach. The fact that he is just so likable is only a bonus.
  • I chose Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Leonard and Gay as my five for the all-tourney team, with Leonard as my MVP, although I felt awfully bad about not writing down White, Chase Stanback or Dairese Gary. The official tournament team was Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Stanback, White and Leonard (no fair they got to pick an extra one – I wanted my all-tourney team to have eight guys), with Leonard the MVP.

Atlantic 10 Semifinals

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More Notes From the Mountain West and WAC Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, they will both post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for last night’s semifinals.

Mountain West Semis

  • The difference between these four teams when they are playing at their peak is not a whole lot. New Mexico and BYU have been more consistent over the course of the season, but all four of these teams are highly talented and very evenly matched.
  • Even before tonight I felt pretty fortunate to have picked the MWC out of the hat to cover this year. After tonight, the MWC could start a new religion and I would be the first convert.
  • I overheard Danny Ainge talking with Steve Lappas during the break between games say that this iteration of this tournament was as good as any in the country over the last few years. At this point, I’m not inclined to disagree.

San Diego State 72, New Mexico 69.

  • Darington Hobson was the MWC Player of the Year, but San Diego State took some advantage of him defensively, especially in the first half when he was unable to control either Kawhi Leonard or Billy White. Further, in the postgame press conference, Aztec point guard D.J. Gay seemed to imply that they were more concerned about Dairese Gary than they were about Hobson, saying that they in the last sequence they were trying to force Gary to give the ball up to Hobson.
  • Speaking of Gary, when the Lobos found themselves down 11 early, it was he who sparked the team’s run back to eventually take the lead in the first half. But as important as Gary is to the Lobos hopes, it is the combination of Gary and Hobson, each of whom have point skills, that make the Lobos so tough.
  • Kawhi Leonard was the MWC Freshman of the Year, a first-team All-MWC selection and my choice as the MWC Defensive Player of the Year, and yet he is only beginning to scratch the surface of his talent. Tonight he added three threes (after shooting just 19% from three on the season), took on Hobson one-on-one defensively, and yanked down 12 rebounds, including a serious man’s rebound in the final seconds, just before knocking down two free throws to extend the final margin.
  • It was apparent in the postgame press conference just how much coach Steve Fisher loves his squad. At times it seemed like he almost had to control himself from gushing over his squad. Check this: “I told our team at halftime, this is big-time, high-level major college basketball. We played about as well as we can play and we’re one point behind. That’s what they’re telling their team, that San Diego State can’t play better. But we can. We have to. And we did.” And, on D.J. Gay: “I said to our team and the media that I thought D.J. Gay was our most important player. He had seven assists, no turnovers. Guards like crazy. Helps everybody else out and wins.” On Billy White: “He’s a really talented player and a terrific young guy. So I’m proud. I’m so happy for Billy today to have him come home and play as well as he did. He was sensational. When we went out before the game, I grabbed him and told him ‘Make your mom proud.’ Afterward I said, ‘You made everyone proud.’”
  • San Diego State’s freshman guard Chase Tapley and New Mexico’s sophomore post A.J. Hardeman may not get all the press that some of their teammates get, but both had key contributions. Hardeman wound up with 12 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, while Tapley, playing with a broken left hand which has cost him his starting position, knocked down three of his four attempts from three-point range.

UNLV 70, BYU 66.

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RTC Live: WAC Semis – Utah St vs. La Tech & Nevada vs. NMSU

Posted by rtmsf on March 12th, 2010

Day 1 of the WAC tournament eliminated all the pretenders and now we are left with just the top four teams in the league battling it out.  The first matchup will feature the number one seed Utah State Aggies taking on the number four seed Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.  The Aggies have played the part of the steamroller lately, and after dispatching Boise State yesterday 84-60 have now run their winning streak up to 16 straight games.  Despite the blowout score, Boise State tested the Aggies, forcing an uncharacteristically high 15 turnovers with a full court pressure defense.  Louisiana Tech will likely try to exploit this by pressuring the Aggies as well, probably using the same 1-3-1 zone we saw in a previous RTC Live that features 6’11 Magnum Rolle at the top of the key trapping Utah State’s much smaller guard line.  The key for the Bulldogs will be generating offense.  Kyle Gibson still does not look like his old self, scoring just seven points yesterday, but backcourt mate Jamel Guyton scored 31 to lead the Bulldogs over Fresno State 74-66.  If the Bulldogs can get that kind of offensive explosion again it should be a great game to decide who moves onto the championship game tomorrow.

In the night cap in the WAC tournament the homestanding Nevada Wolfpack will take on the New Mexico State Aggies.  Neither team had any trouble in the opening round here in Reno as Nevada blasted Idaho 87-71 and New Mexico State had no problems with San Jose State winning 90-69.  These two teams met just a week ago here in Reno and the Wolfpack won in a shootout 100-92, led by Brandon Fields ‘career high 32 points.  If Nevada is getting scoring in bunches from players besides Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson then it’s going to be a long night for New Mexico State.  The Aggies need to get some big numbers out of guards Jahmar Young and Jonathan Gibson, and find someone to slow down Luke Babbitt.  Expect another high scoring, and fast-paced matchup between these two, with the winner moving on to face Louisiana Tech/Utah State for the championship tomorrow night. The game is on ESPN2 so tune and follow along with us on RTC Live.

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Some Notes from the Mountain West & WAC Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 12th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, they will both post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for last night’s games.

Mountain West Tournament Quarters

  • After a long day and a drive from Los Angeles, I got into the Thomas & Mack Center to see TCU down only four to BYU just about halfway through the second half. Just a couple of minutes later, the Cougars had extended the lead to double figures and the only intrigue left was how much Jimmer Fredette would score. TCU threw everything they had at him, including sophomore point guard Ronnie Moss just wrapping his arms around Fredette’s waist at times, but it was no use. Fredette did it every way: deep threes, pull-up jumpers, taking it to the hole and, of course, hitting 23 of his whopping 24 free throw attempts on his way to 45 points (a MWC Tournament record), including 30 in the second half. And, if that weren’t enough, he added six assists as well.
  • Inside of a minute into the UNLV/Utah game, it was obvious it was going to be a physical game. Both teams tried to exploit the other teams inside, and Utah did so to the tune of 36 free throw attempts (of which they made 31). But if the Utes weren’t getting to the line, they were building a chimney; they made just 13 of their 40 field goal attempts, mostly because UNLV defenders were in their faces constantly.
  • It’s been said before I’m sure, so you won’t mind if I say it again: UNLV getting to play this tournament on their home court every year is a huge advantage. While there were pockets of Utah fans, this was little different than a UNLV home game.
  • After the Utes got three unanswered threes (by Marshall Henderson, Luka Drca and Chris Hines) wrapped around a David Foster rejection to cut what was a 13-point Rebel lead to just four at the half, the start of the second half was electric in the arena. But an early 12-3 run by the Rebels broke things back open and the rest of the half was the Runnin’ Rebels living up to their nickname.

WAC Tournament Quarters

(1) Utah State 84, (8) Boise State 60

  • If Utah State has a weakness it’s against pressure defenses. Boise State was able to hang in the game at halftime trailing by just five by turning the Aggies over and getting easy baskets in transition.
  • If you’ve followed WAC basketball at all this season you may wonder why Utah State’s Brian Green hits his elbow and points to the sky after every game. The answer? “These are my guns, I just reload them.” Green unloaded for 18 against Boise State, which was tied for the game high with both Tai Wesley and Pooh Williams.
  • Boise State fans don’t really like Greg Graham. Will he be joining Hawaii’s Bobby Nash in the WAC coaches unemployment line?

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RTC Live: WAC Qtrs – San Jose State vs. New Mexico State

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2010

The night cap from the first day of play in the WAC tournament features the #3 seed New Mexico State Aggies versus the #6 seed San Jose State Spartans. New Mexico State comes into the tourney on a two game slide after losing at Nevada and Utah State when two wins would have meant a WAC championship. The Aggies have been a much better team since Troy Gillenwater and Wendell McKines became available during the spring semester, and combined with first team All-WAC player Jahmar Young, they make for a dynamic team capable of scoring in bunches. San Jose State counters with the best pure scorer in the WAC in Adrian Oliver (also a first team All-WAC player) and an odd lineup in which they will play up to four guards at once and try to push the pace of the game. New Mexico State also loves to play the uptempo game so expect each team to finish in the 80s or 90s. The winner of this game gets a semifinal matchup with the winner of the Nevada/Idaho on Friday night, while the loser packs up and hopes for a better season next year. Stay up late and see who can survive and advance to Friday night in Reno.

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RTC Live: WAC Qtrs – Fresno State vs. Louisiana Tech

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2010

The Western Athletic Conference begins its postseason tournament here in The Biggest Little City in the World. The feature game of the afternoon pod is the #4-#5 seed matchup as Louisiana Tech takes on Fresno State to decide which set of Bulldogs will reign supreme in the WAC this season. Louisiana Tech sputtered out to end the season winning just one of its last five conference games, and they just weren’t the same without All-WAC second teamer Kyle Gibson down the stretch run. Gibson averaged 19 points a game for Tech and could have easily been a first team performer had he not missed several games, but he promises to be back for the stretch tourney run. The Fresno State Bulldogs have been the hardest team in the WAC to figure out. Steve Cleveland’s team has some of the best talent in the WAC in the form of future NBA players Paul George, Greg Smith and Sylvester Seay, but the west coast Bulldogs have a hard time putting it all together. Still they have scored some huge upsets in conference play, beating New Mexico State, Nevada and most recently Louisiana Tech just last Thursday. Will Gibson’s return be enough to get Louisiana Tech back on track and into the second round or will Fresno’s NBA talent finally gel and lead them to the semis? Find out whose NCAA dream will last at least one more day with us on RTC Live.

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WAC Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2010

Sam Wasson of bleedCRIMSON.net and Travis Mason-Bushman of Vandal Nation are the RTC correspondents for the Western Athletic Conference.

It’s finally here, do or die time. The WAC tournament will begin on Thursday, March 11, for the eight teams who earned their way in. All eight teams feel like they have a shot to win the whole enchilada but in reality there are probably only five teams that have a chance. History is also not on four teams’ side as only once has a team seeded lower than #4 won the conference tournament as #5-seed Hawai’i pulled off the feat in the 2001 WAC Tournament. Utah State is the favorite as they ran roughshod over the WAC for a second straight season. Nevada is also a favorite but their lack of depth and need to win three games in four days will be something to keep an eye on. New Mexico State is the league’s second highest scoring team and perhaps most physically talented team, however, they are also the league’s worst scoring defense having given up at least 80 points in seven of their 16 conference games. Louisiana Tech was strong in the first half of the season but faltered down the stretch. They could get hot and run the table as well as they have wins over every WAC team except New Mexico State (whom they would not potentially face until the championship game). San Jose State is the darkhorse in the equation. They boast the league’s leading scorer in Adrian Oliver and they have the pieces in place to make a run. However, they too have fallen on tough times losing three of the final four conference games. Unfortunately for them their path to the title game goes through New Mexico State and potentially top seeded Utah State and that’s even before playing in the title game.

There is one team missing from the conference tournament and that is the University of Hawai’i. Not only did Hawai’i not play its way into the WAC tournament last week losing twice on the road, they played their coach out of a job. The University of Hawai’i announced on Monday that head coach Bob Nash would not be returning next season. The Warriors have fallen on tough times since winning the conference tournament in back-to-back seasons to start the new century. The Warriors won in 2001 and again in 2002 earning the automatic bid and then were NIT bound in 2003 and 2004 but have gone 85-93 in their past five seasons combined after amassing an 85-45 record from the 2000-01 season through the 2003-04 season.

Final Standings (conference tournament seeding order)

  1. Utah State, 25-6 (14-2)
  2. Nevada 19-11 (11-5)
  3. New Mexico State, 19-11 (11-5)
  4. Louisiana Tech, 22-9 (9-7)
  5. Fresno State, 15-17 (6-10)
  6. San Jose State 14-16 (6-10)
  7. Idaho, 15-15 (6-10)
  8. Boise State, 15-16 (5-11)

OUT) Hawai’i, 10-18 (3-13)

All-WAC Honors

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WAC Tournament Semifinals Wrapup

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2009

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing the WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

The semifinal games featured the top two seeds Utah State and Nevada taking on the five and six seeds New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech. NM State and La. Tech were attempting to become the lowest seeds to ever face each other in the conference tournament finals. It was not to be however as both Utah State and Nevada held serve. Utah State defeated New Mexico State on a baseline jumper by Tyler Newbold with 3.1 seconds remaining to propel Utah State to the title game. Nevada meanwhile overcame an early first half deficit of 10 points to pull away from La. Tech 77-68.

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Hey Kid, I’ll Give You $20 to Carry This Package For Me…

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2009

One of the very best things about college sports other than the cheerleaders and the dance teams are the mascots.  And while you’ll never, ever see a cute blonde pixie getting in the face of a competitor, it’s fairly common for mascots to get involved in tomfoolery and hijinks.  Case in point: last night at the WAC Tournament with seven seconds left in a one-pt game, Utah St.’s “Big Blue” confronted New Mexico St.’s “Pistol Pete” and ripped off his mustache, leading to a row during a timeout in the middle of the court.  From the AP report:

big-blue-utah-st

During a timeout with 7 seconds left and New Mexico State leading 70-69, Utah State’s mascot, “Big Blue” the bull, confronted New Mexico State’s “Pistol Pete” cowboy mascot and ripped off his fake mustache. The cowboy then chased the bull to halfcourt, jumped on his back and tried unsuccessfully to pull him to the floor. “Pistol Pete” then started to try to choke his rival before retreating to his end of the court. Several newspaper photographers covering the game said they heard a man in a Nevada shirt offer the Utah State mascot $100 to go grab the mustache. The man confirmed to The Associated Press that was true and that he paid the mascot the $100, but declined to provide his name. He said he did not expect New Mexico State’s “Pistol Pete” to respond the way he did.

This is phenomenal.  Who is this nefarious Nevada fan peeling off hundies like he was PacMan over at Solid Platinum?  And how perfect was his timing in that situation – can you imagine if Big Blue had gotten his team – down one point at the time – a tech for his aggression?  Stew Morrill probably would have gored Big Blue with his own horns.

If anyone finds a video of this, send it along and we’ll put it up.

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RTC Live: WAC Tournament

Posted by rtmsf on March 11th, 2009

rtc_live

3/14 Update.  Crazy night in Reno last night – here’s our wrapup on the semis, and whatever you do, don’t offer the mascot $100 to attack the other mascot.  Stay safe out there, Nevadans!  Should be a great environment there tonight.

3/13 Update: here’s the live-blog for tonight’s WAC semifinal between Utah St. and New Mexico St., with the second semifinal between Louisiana Tech and the homestanding Nevada following it.

Hello WAC fans, and welcome to RTC Live’s ongoing coverage of the WAC Tournament from Reno, Nevada.  We have been fortunate to partner with Travis Mason-Bushman from Vandal Nation, who will be live-blogging and reporting from the Lawlor Events Center throughout the weekend.  The Tournament began last night with a single opening round game (Fresno St. defeated Hawaii), but the quarterfinals will begin in earnest on Thursday afternoon.  For additional information on this tournament, be sure to check out the comprehensive WAC Tournament preview put together by our regular WAC correspondents, Kevin McCarthy and Sam Wasson.

Travis will be live-blogging select games throughout the weekend, starting tomorrow with the quarterfinal matchup between #1 seed Utah St. and #9 seed Fresno St.   This has the potential to be an atypical high/low seed game, as Fresno took the slumping Aggies to overtime in a regular season meeting.  If you’re new to the site, the live-blog box will show immediately below this paragraph, and Travis will be taking comments and questions throughout the game.  Particularly insightful questions will be chosen for him to take into the media press conference and/or locker rooms afterwards.  Enjoy the WAC Tournament, and check back here daily to see which games we’ll be live-blogging next.

And be sure to check out the Idaho vs. Louisiana Tech game tonight, live-blogged below.

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WAC Wrapup & Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2009

Kevin McCarthy of Parsing the WAC and Sam Wasson of bleedCrimson.net are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A WACky regular season came to an end on Saturday night and after the dust settled the seedings were finally set. Heading into last week’s games just two of the nine seeds were cemented in place, the 1-seed (Utah State) and the 9-seed (Fresno State). The final seeds look like this 1) Utah State, 2) Nevada, 3) Idaho, 4) Boise State, 5) New Mexico State, 6) Louisiana Tech, 7) San Jose State, 8) Hawai’i, 9) Fresno State.

2009-wac-tourney-bracket

Tuesday night sees the two last place teams battle it out for the honor of facing top seed Utah State on Thursday in the quarterfinals.On Thursday the remaining eight teams will be whittled down to four.

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