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 league wrapped up the second to last week of conference play and there was some shuffling near the top. New Mexico State, which had held the second place spot since the mid January, slipped to third place after getting swept on the road at San Jose State and at Hawai’i. Nevada, which had likewise occupied a top four spot since early in the conference season was swept at home by Idaho and Boise State dropping from third to sixth place. The Broncos have won five games in a row, including four conference games, since losing six of seven in the middle portion of the conference schedule and are poised to claim the coveted 2-seed. All that needs to happen for the Broncos is a win at home on senior night against San Jose State and a loss by New Mexico State to either No. 25/21 Utah State or Nevada. Idaho is also sitting in an ideal spot with a game against Fresno State. A win by them would secure a top four seed and a first round bye in next week’s conference tournament. Louisiana Tech was eliminated from tournament contention as they lost to Hawai’i and San Jose State.
Player of the Week: Boise State’s La’Shard Anderson was named the Player of the Week for February 21–27 after leading Boise State to a pair of road wins last week at Fresno State (70-56) and Nevada (72-66). With the team’s road sweep last week, Boise State moved from fourth place to second place in the conference standings. Anderson scored a career-high 33 points at Fresno State on 11-of-14 shooting (.786), including 4-of-6 from three-point range (.667) and 7-of-8 from the free throw line he also added four assists and three steals. Two nights later he scored a team-high 23 points at Nevada, going 7-11 from the floor, 2-4 from beyond the arc and 7-of-10 from the charity stripe and added five assists and three steals. In the two wins Anderson averaged 28.0 points, 4.5 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game. He shot 18-25 (72 percent) from the field, 6-of-10 (60 percent) from three-point range and 14-18 (77.8 percent) from the free throw line.
1. Utah State (26-3, 13-1)
Up Next: 03/02 at New Mexico State (ESPN2, 9:00 p.m. MT), 03/05 at Louisiana Tech
With New Mexico State’s loss, the northern Aggies earned the regular season title outright and Utah State’s senior group marks four regular season titles in four years. The UtAgs capped it off with a revenge victory over Idaho, the only team to defeat them thus far in regular season conference play. The UtAgs wrap up the regular season with a road trip to Las Cruces and Ruston. A road sweep would give Utah State the best regular season conference record (15-1) since Rick Majerus‘ Utah squad finished 14-0 in the 1998-99 season. USU is 64-21 in WAC regular season games since joining the league in 2005-06.
2. Boise State (17-11, 9-6)
Up Next: 03/05 vs. San Jose State
“A pair of victories could have them sitting as high as second place after the weekend depending on what happens to New Mexico State and Nevada.” Those were our words last week, and Boise State went out and got a pair of victories and now sit in second place, a win and a New Mexico State loss away from the 2-seed and a double-bye into the WAC Tournament semifinals. All that stands in the path of a victory is San Jose State and Adrian Oliver‘s 24.3 PPG. The Broncos head into WAC play as one of the hottest teams having won five in a row, the longest win streak in the WAC and they’ve done so winning three straight on the road. The Broncos will take a brief non-conference break to host Cal State-Bakersfield on Wednesday night.
3. New Mexico State (14-15, 8-6)
Up Next: 03/02 vs. No. 25/21 Utah State (ESPN2, 9:00 p.m. MT), 03/05 vs. Nevada
The Aggies blew a golden opportunity to wrap up second place and a double-bye after losing twice on the road last week. The Aggies lost 72-70 to San Jose State in overtime and 76-70 to Hawai’i. The Aggies got no production from their interior as the duo of Hamidu Rahman and Tshilidzi Nephawe combined to go 0-for-18 with 17 rebounds and 12 personal fouls in the two games on the road. Junior forward Troy Gillenwater was doubled-up in the scoring column by San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver in the showdown of the league’s two top scorers. Oliver scored 36 points while Gillenwater scored 18 and missed a potential game-winning three in overtime. The Aggies host rival Utah State on Wednesday night in a nationally televised game on ESPN2 and then close out the regular season on Saturday against rival Nevada where they will bid adios to their lone senior, hometown product, Gordo Castillo (8.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG).
4. Idaho (16-12, 8-7)
Up Next: 02/03 vs. Fresno State, 02/05 vs. Seattle
The Vandals earned an impressive season sweep of Nevada but lost to Utah State 84-68 but still earned a split in that series and moved into position for a top four finish and a first round bye. The Vandals must take care of business against visiting Fresno State on Thursday night before finishing up with a non-conference game against Seattle on Senior Night.
5. Hawai’i (17-10, 7-7)
Up Next: 03/03 at San Jose State, 03/05 at Fresno State
A three-game conference win streak (Nevada, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State), coinciding with being at home in the islands, has Hawaii looking and feeling fine. This past week, LT fell to the Rainbow Warriors 71-58 with four UH players in double figures scoring and then it was a 76-70 triumph against the Aggies out of Las Cruces, the then second best team in the WAC. In the latter, sophomore center Vander Joaquim totaled an 18/15 double-double while senior frontcourter Bill Amis was at 14/11 with his contribution. Zane Johnson led all scorers with 22 points. Forward Joston Thomas has returned from his personal absence and matters seem patched up between him and coach Gib Arnold. Next up is a trip to San Jose to battle the Spartans and then heading south to face Fresno State. These two road games will be indicators of the real-ness of the Rainbow Warriors.
6. Nevada (11-17, 7-7)
Up Next: 02/24 vs. Idaho, 02/26 vs. Boise State
Oh, what a difference a week makes. The Wolf Pack went into last week dreaming of a two-seed but came out of the week staring up at five teams. Nevada’s home losses were a bit unexpected for a team that had won seven of their previous nine games. The Pack heads east to take on hapless Louisiana Tech and rival New Mexico State. A road sweep could have the Wolf Pack faithful happy once again and could deliver Nevada as high as a three-seed in the WAC tournament. A loss or two could doom the young squad to the second half of the standings and no byes.
7. San Jose State (15-12, 5-9)
Up Next: 03/03 vs. Hawai’i, 03/05 at Boise State
After two wins against Big Sky Conference opponents, the Spartans took down New Mexico State 72-70 in overtime and then Louisiana Tech 72-60. Adrian Oliver scored 36 points against NMSU (half of SJSU’s total) and followed up with 23 versus LT. San Jose State is currently tied with Fresno State so the battle for who finishes seventh and eighth and the resulting placement in the WAC tourney will probably come down to the last game of the season. The team in eighth will have to go through Utah State to reach the conference finals. Next up is aloha-ing Hawaii to San Jose and then the regular season closes out with a final game up in Boise.
8. Fresno State (13-16, 5-9)
Up Next: 03/03 at Idaho, 03/05 vs. Hawai’i
A three-game WAC losing streak and a current tie for the last playoff spot is what’s facing the Bulldogs this week. A 70-56 home loss to Boise State, in which FSU shot 17-46 overall and 6-22 from long distance, with Greg Smith totaling just four points, has coach Steve Cleveland‘s squad teetering. Can they head north or is the elevator dropping? It is a young Bulldog team, one with promise but there are definite holes to be filled. A ready-to-contribute physical inside player to team with Smith is a must as is a freshman fitting such a description to groom. The backcourt needs a consistent distance shooter, hopefully someone with size and the point needs a dribble-drive creator. Next up is a never-easy road game up at Idaho followed by hosting Hawaii. Junior wing Tim Steed is expected to miss at least the Vandal matchup due to suspension.
9. Louisiana Tech (12-18, 2-12)
Up Next: 03/03 vs. Nevada, 03/05 vs. No. 25/21 Utah State
The end is near. With a pair of losses on the road last week the Bulldogs were eliminated from WAC tournament contention. It could be an ugly end to an ugly season. The Bulldogs will still likely be without suspended point guard DeAndre Brown and playing shorthanded against the Wolf Pack and Aggies is not a fun way to end the season.
A Look Ahead
While the participants for next week’s conference tournament have been decided, seeds two through nine have not. There is potential for five teams to finish the season at 9-7 and tied for second place, a true indicator of the mediocrity (some might call it parity) of the WAC this season. Even seeds eight and nine are TBD as 5-9 San Jose State and 5-9 Fresno State could both finish at 7-9. It will be one wild and crazy sprint to the finish line for what promises to be a wild and crazy WAC tournament next week.