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Mountain West Notebook

January 22, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Mountain West Notebook

by Bob Thurman

A Loud Cry, Followed by a Deafening Silence

As expected, my last article raised the ire of many Wyoming fans. They didn’t appreciate my assessment that the Cowboys are the league’s most overrated team. If that wasn’t bad enough, I added a little more salt to their wounds by proudly proclaiming point guard Chris McMillan the league’s biggest disappointment. Many accused me of a bias against the Cowboys. Looking back over the article, I guess I can see why some of you would think that way. However, I also praised the team for playing as well as they have considering all the adversity they have faced this season, and still considered them one of the league’s top teams. Regardless, the flames kept coming and I was stuck holding my hose. That all changed Wednesday night.

Last Wednesday, Wyoming traveled to Lawrence to battle the powerful Kansas Jayhawks in a nationally televised event. This was a great opportunity for the Cowboys, along with the Mountain West conference, to get some much needed exposure and possibly gain a little bit of respect. Wyoming was heading into the game with a nine game winning streak and was hungry for another quality win before conference play began. The Jayhawks, however, were playing their best ball of the season and were trying to give coach Roy Williams his 400th career victory. And they did just that, in a big way. After staying close with Kansas the first five minutes of the game, the Jayhawks went on a 35-12 tear that broke the game wide open. Wyoming was never in at after that and lost convincingly 98-70. Kansas’ athleticism showed in every aspect of the game. They were quicker on defense, causing 22 turnovers. They were more physical down low, outrebounding the Cowboys 39-22. They were much more fluid on offense, shooting 52 percent for the game. It wasn’t a good showing for the Mountain West.

On the positive side, swingman Donta Richardson showed some real improvement against some tough competition and may become the team’s biggest offensive threat now that Marcus Bailey is gone. Secondly, other than point guard Jason Straight, the team shot well against a tough defensive team. If you take out his 2-11 performance, the Cowboys ended up shooting 50 percent from the field. Lastly, they got some valuable experience playing in front of one of the most hostile environments in all of sports. This should help them when they travel to some of the league’s tougher places to play, like Provo and Salt Lake City. Despite the bad performance, it’s only one game that won’t have much of a bearing on the Tournament Selection Committee’s decision in March. What will is how the Cowboys perform these next six weeks in conference play.

Two of the Top Teams Start Things Off Right

Conference play got off to a strong start with two of the league’s top teams squaring off. UNLV traveled to Provo to face BYU and try to halt the nation’s longest home winning streak at 43. The Cougars played well the first half, thanks to the strong inside play of center Rafael Araujo, and led 43-33 at half. BYU maintained a comfortable lead most of the second half until the last few minutes. That’s when UNLV’s Marcus Banks, who had struggled most of the game, led the Rebels on a furious comeback to get within five points. However, some questionable shots down the stretch, and BYU’s ability to hit their free throws, sealed the victory for the Cougars, 85-77.

Overall, the quality of play in the game by both teams was quite high, and the game was fun and exciting to watch. Both teams shot pretty well, especially from the free throw stripe. BYU went 27-33 from the line, while UNLV was in a zone, hitting 23 of 24. Both teams took good care of the ball, combining for only 25 turnovers. It was clear to see that both teams will have a major impact on the conference race. Things don’t get any easier for either team this week, as UNLV hosts Utah, while BYU has to travel to San Diego State.

This Week’s MWC Heat-Miser Award

Rafael Araujo, BYU
22 points, 10-15 shooting, 15 rebounds, 3 steals versus UNLV

The big Brazilian keeps getting better every game and is quickly becoming the league’s top inside player. He’s led the Cougars in scoring six of the last seven games, and none more important than this big conference showdown. The Rebels threw everyone they could at him, but he was too much to handle.

This Week’s MWC Snow-Miser Award

Joel Gerlach, Air Force
2 points, 1-7 shooting, 2 rebounds, 5 fouls versus Colorado State

The Falcons don’t have many “big” men to begin with, so when one of their best gets into foul trouble, it’s not a good sign. Air Force’s best frontcourt player was limited to only 21 minutes of uninspired play in a close game that they could have won.


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