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Mountain West Notebook

January 27, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Mountain West Notebook

by Bob Thurman

The Rivalry Heats Up

This past week, fans of the Mountain West got a chance to watch a great game between the league’s biggest rivals. Utah and BYU have split the 32 previous contests, so this game would give one team the slightest edge, and of course, bragging rights for a few weeks. In addition, BYU had the nation’s longest home winning streak at 44 games. To make things even more intriguing, Utah coach Rick Majerus didn’t make the trip because he was attending the funeral of Andre Miller’s stepfather (the man defines class). So it was up to assistant Kerry Rupp to coach the Utes in their biggest conference game yet.

The Utes were not intimidated by the 20,000 plus fans at the Marriott Center and broke out to an early lead. The Cougars kept it close but were struggling against the Ute’s quicker frontcourt. Coach Steve Cleveland went to a smaller lineup and that helped them make a nice run before halftime to close within three, 40-37. The second half was a seesaw affair, with both teams switching leads. The referees were calling the game extremely close and the Utes used this to their advantage against the more physical Cougars, who were quickly getting into foul trouble. Late in the game, the Utes were able to pull ahead and hold on thanks to some good free throw shooting, and some missed opportunities by the Cougars. Final score: Utah 79, BYU 75. The nation’s longest home winning streak has ended.

The Battle For First

In the other big game of the week, the two remaining undefeated teams in the conference battled for first place. Wyoming traveled to Colorado State to face a tough Rams squad. After a close first half, the Rams came out strong in the second half and were up by seven points with five minutes to go. However, Wyoming’s Donta Richardson led the Cowboys on a 15-6 run the last five minutes to pull out the win, 79-77. Richardson, along with fellow running mate Jason Stright, each had 22 points. The Rams were led by center Matt Nelson, who had 23 points and 9 rebounds despite playing with an injured knee. For Wyoming, it its first road win against a proven opponent this year and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Ship is Sinking Fast

After the first few weeks of conference play, I never would have believed that UNLV would be the league’s only winless team. But alas, here they are in the basement. After playing well at BYU, the Rebels hosted the Utes on Big Monday. It was the start of a miserable week for them. Utah played a really poor game, but that didn’t matter as the Rebels had no offensive game plan to deal with the Utes tough defense. UNLV’s offense degenerated into one-on-one basketball, with very few screens, cuts and overall teamwork. They may be the most athletic team in the conference, but that won’t work against a strong defensive team like Utah’s. It didn’t work in their next game against Air Force either. Even worse, the Rebel’s played with little passion and were out-rebounded 27-22 by the smaller Falcons in their 75-71 loss.

At this moment, UNLV’s season is teetering. With only eleven conference games remaining, they have little time to develop into a coherent unit and make a run at the league title. A NCAA at-large bid is a fantasy now, so their only hope may lie in the conference tournament on their home court. That prospect is not what this promising team had in mind just weeks ago!

This Week’s MWC Heat-Miser Award

Marc Jackson, Utah

17 points, 13-13 FT shooting, 5 assists, 4 rebounds versus BYU

The feisty point guard came off the bench to give the Utes solid play on both ends of the court. He also hit some key free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.

This Week’s MWC Snow-Miser Award

Donta Richardson, Wyoming

4 points, 1-9 shooting, 6 turnovers versus Air Force

The Cowboy guard, who lit it up against Kansas, must have run out of gas against Air Force. Luckily, backup David Adams came to play and helped them pull out a close victory over the Falcons.


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