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
The WAC opened up conference play, and after two games, there are three teams atop the leaderboard with 2-0 records. Utah State opened 2-0 as expected, however, Boise State and an even bigger surprise, Fresno State, are also 2-0. New Mexico State has the league’s only road conference victory, winning at Idaho, 74-69. Off to disappointing 0-2 starts are San Jose State and Louisiana Tech, both of whom opened conference play on the road. No team had a worse first week than Louisiana Tech, which was blown out by both Boise State and Idaho, 71-60 (the Bulldogs trailed Boise State 36-14 at half) and 77-47, respectively.
Player of the Week:
Utah State’s Tai Wesley was named the Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 27-Jan. 2 as he led Utah State to a pair of WAC home wins against Hawai’i (74-66) and San Jose State (80-71). Against the Warriors, Wesley posted his fourth double-double of the season tying a career-high with 27 points to go along with 13 rebounds. Wesley was 8-12 from the field and a perfect 11-11 at the free throw line in 38 minutes of action. Against the Spartans, Wesley scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished out four assists and blocked three shots. In a spectacular outing from the floor, he shot 5-6 from the field and 6-8 at the charity stripe. For the week, Wesley averaged 21.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 blocks per game. He shot 72.2 percent (13-18) from the field and 89.5 percent (17-19) from the free throw line.
1. Utah State (11-2, 2-0)
Up Next: 01/08 at Nevada (ESPNU)
Yes, the UtAgs are 2-0 in conference play, however, they were pushed to the brink by Hawai’i and to a lesser extent, San Jose State. USU needed a career night from Tai Wesley (27 points, 13 rebounds) to get by Hawai’i as the Warriors trailed Utah State by just three with 42 seconds left in the game. Utah State’s defense was suspect, allowing Hawai’i to shoot 63.2 percent for the game, but a 32-13 rebounding advantage (including 18 offensive boards) allowed the Aggies to escape. Rebounding again played a key role in their victory over the Spartans as they held a 40-26 advantage. The Aggies’ defense in the first half allowed 48 percent shooting by the visiting Spartans, but they clamped down in the second half allowing just 38.7 percent shooting by the visitors. USU hits the road for a single game as they head to Reno to take on the Wolf Pack.
2. Boise State (9-5, 2-0)
Up Next: 01/06 at San Jose State, 01/08 at Hawai’i
The Broncos made a statement that they will be a team to contend with in their final season in the WAC. Boise State stifled Louisiana Tech in the first half, allowing just 14 first half points en route to a 71-60 victory. Against New Mexico State, it was a stellar second half defensive effort that propelled them to an 81-78 come-from-behind victory as they held the Aggies to just 37.5 percent shooting after allowing NM State to hit 69.6 percent of their shots in the first half including eight three pointers. Boise State forced three straight Aggie turnovers late to turn a tie into a five-point advantage and held on for the victory, hitting seven of nine free throws down the stretch. The Broncos take to the road, where they’re just 3-4 this season. They’ll face two teams in San Jose State and Hawai’i that are desperate for conference victories.
3. Fresno State (6-6, 2-0)
Up Next: 01/06 at Louisiana Tech, 01/08 at New Mexico State (ESPN Full Court)
Are the youthful Bulldogs stabilizing and moving forward? After spending the bulk of the non-conference at the bottom of the WAC standings Fresno State’s 2-0 start has to be a surprise to even the most loyal of Bulldog fans. Fresh off a solid 75-62 home win over San Jose State — with Greg Smith finally as the leading Bulldog scorer — Fresno State entertained Nevada and notched another conference victory, 80-74. Smith and newcomer Tim Steed have individually highlighted these past two games. Smith finished with 15 points and nine boards against the Wolf Pack plus 16/8 in the SJSU matchup and Steed posted 20/6 against the Wolf Pack and 16 and six against the Spartans. Newly returned to eligibility, point guard Steve Shepp has a marvelous 12/1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Next, it’s hitting the road to Ruston to play Louisiana Tech and then moving over to Las Cruces and New Mexico State. An unrequested memo to the Bulldog perimeter players: If the team wishes to have a chance on the road, KEEP GETTING SMITH THE BALL. Steve Cleveland‘s squad is 5-2 at home but just 1-4 on the road although falling to Colorado State, Utah, UC-Santa Barbara and BYU falls short of venial sin qualifications. Injuries are a definite concern for the Bulldogs, as Steed could miss both games of the road trip after suffering an ankle sprain against the Wolf Pack.
4. New Mexico State (7-9, 1-1)
Up Next: 01/08 vs. Fresno State (ESPN Full Court)
The Aggies came this close to notching a road sweep, but after coming from behind to defeat Idaho by five, the Aggies could not overcome three late turnovers at Boise State and lost, 81-78. The Aggie offense has been uneven in the first two conference games. They shot a dismal 29 percent in the first half at Idaho, but then strung together two white-hot halves shooting 63 percent in the second half against Idaho and 69.6 percent in the first half against Boise State. The roller coaster continued, as the Aggies cooled off considerably, shooting just 37.5 percent in the second half against the Broncos. Troy Gillenwater’s return to the lineup had an immediate impact, as he scored 22 and 24 points respectively on the trip. Also returning from injury, though having less of a scoring impact, was center Hamidu Rahman. One Aggie who will not be returning to action this season is preseason First Team All-WAC selection Wendell McKines. It was announced this week that McKines will redshirt this season and return for his senior season in 2011-2012. McKines suffered a foot injury in preseason practice and has not seen action on the court this season. The Aggies host Fresno State on Saturday night where they’ll try to “hold serve” at home in the league race.
5. Idaho (7-6, 1-1)
Up Next: 01/06 at Hawai’i, 01/08 at San Jose State
The Vandals split a pair at home, losing to New Mexico State 74-69 then clobbering Louisiana Tech, 77-47, two nights later. Despite shooting 53.6 percent in the second half against the Aggies, the Vandals could not hang on to a two-point halftime lead falling behind by as many as eight points late in the second half. The Vandals did cut the Aggie lead to two points with 1:33 left and again with 14 seconds left but a missed layup by Landon Tatum with four seconds left sealed their fate. Idaho took out their frustrations on Louisiana Tech putting together an impressive defensive performance as they held the Bulldogs to 28.8 percent shooting for the game and just five buckets in the second half. Idaho got 20 points from Jeff Ledbetter on 6-7 shooting (3-4 from three point distance). Up next for the Vandals is a road trip to Hawai’i and San Jose State where like Boise State, they’ll be facing a pair of teams desperate for a conference victory.
6. Nevada (4-11, 1-1)
Up Next: 01/08 vs. Utah State (ESPNU)
Just two nights after Utah State struggled with Hawai’i, the Wolf Pack easily dispatched of the visiting Warriors, 86-69. Olek Czyz and Dario Hunt each scored 23 (both on 9-13 shooting) while Malik Story added 18 all on three pointers (6-11). The 86 points was a season-high for Nevada. The Wolf Pack’s first road trip in conference play resulted in an 80-74 loss despite 26 points from Czyz and 50 percent shooting from the team in both halves. The Wolf Pack trailed by five at the break but took a 58-56 lead with just under eight minutes remaining in the game, however, the Bulldogs would pull away slowly sending the Pack to defeat. The Wolf Pack hit just 2-11 three point attempts in the second half.
7. Hawai’i (9-5, 0-2)
Up Next: 10/6 vs. Idaho, 10/8 vs. Boise State
UH played Utah State tough (74-66) in The Spectrum, a veritable death chamber for opposing teams, but fell apart later on in Reno, allowing a young Nevada team to put up 86 points while scoring 69. Now it’s Idaho, followed by Boise State coming to the islands and momentum needs to be regenerated by the young Rainbow Warriors. Leading scorer Zane Johnson has been en fuego of late with his shooting touch (10-16, 6-9 from three the past two games) but fellow perimeter player Hiram Thompson needs to shake off his back woes. The world isn’t awaiting the return of forward Bill Amis (foot injury) but head coach Gib Arnold and the Hawaii hoops fans sure are. Having the solid frontcourt scorer and rebounder available will only open up more outside opportunities for Arnold’s guards and wings but Amis’ latest problem is strep. At least it’s not strep foot, if such a malady is possible. Amis returned to practice on Tuesday, a welcome sight for Arnold and an unwelcome sight for the eight other coaches in the WAC.
8. San Jose State (8-5, 0-2)
Up Next: 12/29 at Fresno State, 12/31 at Utah State
A loss on the road to Fresno State (75-62), followed by another to Utah State (80-71) have the Spartans at a critical juncture. Boise State comes to town followed by Idaho this week and San Jose State needs to even up its conference record. The flu slowed down Adrian Oliver last week scoring a pedestrian (by Oliver standards) 15 and 18 points respectively but he should be free and clear of symptoms from here on out. Newcomer Brylle Kamen is the best-shooting frontcourter to date on the squad this season but the Spartan Big Three (Kamen, Will Clark and Matt Ballard) all remain below 40% at 38%, 37% and 25% respectively.
9. Louisiana Tech (9-7, 0-2)
Up Next: 01/06 vs. Fresno State
Louisiana Tech’s dismal showing on the road cannot be understated. After getting pummeled in the first half by Boise State (36-14), the Bulldogs had to have felt a little better about themselves as they headed to Moscow after shooting 55.6 percent in the second half against the Broncos and making a blowout look a bit more competitive. However, that was not the case as the Bulldogs were shellacked by the Vandals, 77-47. LA Tech hit just 15 buckets for the game and hit just five in the second half (5-22), a fate they suffered in the first half against Boise State (5-25). DeAndre Brown had 24 points against Boise State and 13 against Idaho and Olu Ashaolu finished with 15/10 and 9/8 respectively but there wasn’t much help for those two from their teammates. The Bulldogs have just one game this week, The Battle for the Bone (Part I) as they host Fresno State who comes in riding high after opening league play 2-0.
A Look Ahead
Week Two in the WAC provides some interesting matchups and some desperation games for some (San Jose State, Louisiana Tech and Hawai’i) while the home teams try to hold serve (just one home loss through the first nine conference games). Fresno State at New Mexico State, Boise State at Hawai’i and Utah State at Nevada highlight this week’s games.