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Mountain West Notebook

March 3, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Mountain West Notebook

by Bob Thurman

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

League leading Utah had the conference title within its reach, but ran into the country’s hottest player and now needs to hold serve in the final week of the season. On Monday, archrival and second place BYU came to Salt Lake City to seek revenge against the team that ended its 44 game home winning streak. After a close first half, the Utes broke out to a thirteen-point lead, led by Nick Jacobson and Tim Frost. The Cougars charged back and got to within three points, but Utah sealed the 71-64 victory at the line. The Utes converted 23 of 25 free throw attempts for the game. It gave them a two game lead in the conference standings and, more importantly, a season sweep of BYU. Things were looking good.

Things changed quickly by Saturday, when Utah traveled to The Pit in New Mexico. The Lobos have been carried by their version of Superman, guard Ruben Douglas, who has yet to score less than 20 points in the new year. The Utes couldn’t handle the Lobos quick backcourt, who consistently got into the lane to score or get fouled. Douglas alone got to the line a school record 31 times, making 26 of them. Meanwhile, the Utes only attempted seven free throws for the entire game. Hmmm? Either way, the Utes lost because they veered from their offensive game plan and hoisted a school record 40 three-point attempts, making only 12 of them. The 76-69 loss put the Utes only one game ahead of BYU going into the final week of conference play.

The Rising Rebels and Aztecs

Two teams that have been stuck in the middle of the pack in the Mountain West have started to play better at the right time. Both UNLV and San Diego State have always had the talent, but the passion and teamwork has been missing at times throughout the season. The Rebels started conference play in a funk, but have won five of their last six, with the only blemish being a tough loss at Utah. Coach Charlie Spoonhour has gone with a bigger lineup, with 6′ 9″ Dalron Johnson at the small forward position, which is causing matchup problems for many teams. Of course, Marcus Banks is always a matchup problem for opposing teams and he is playing his best ball of the season.

San Diego State played miserably during the middle part of conference play, losing six of seven games. Since then, they’ve won three in a row, including an impressive victory at Wyoming. Senior Tony Bland has not been forcing things and has been extremely consistent during this stretch, averaging 22 points a game. In addition, point guard Deandre Moore has been solid and freshman Evan Burns has been more involved on offense, including 31 points against New Mexico. The Aztecs, who marched through the conference tournament last season, and UNLV, who hosts the tournament, could be two of the most dangerous teams to face in this season’s conference bracket.

The Falling Rams

At one point this season, Colorado State was 3-1 in conference play and fighting for first place. Since then, the Rams have lost seven in a row and are struggling even at home. Many of the games have been close, but the Rams can’t make the plays necessary down the stretch to pull out the victory. Their backcourt, who played really well early in the season, has been turning the ball over, playing sloppy defense, and missing too many three point shots lately. What was once a promising season, has deteriorated into a struggle to stay out of the conference basement.

A Few Last Words

The polls are truly a mystery to me. Why is Duke still in the Top Ten? Do people really believe they are one of the best teams in the country? They are not even leading their own conference! Add in a disgraceful effort against lowly Saint John’s, and they should be lucky to be in the Top 25. The ACC will only get three NCAA bids, yet all three teams are in the Top 25. Meanwhile, the MWC will probably get three teams as well, but only has Utah barely in the Top 25. What a joke!

On the other side, both Syracuse and Marquette should be squarely in the Top Ten. Marquette may not have a future NBA player on their roster (sorry, Dwyane Wade), but they’ve got some great college players and a head coach that knows how to win. They’ve won 14 of their last 15 and could end up with a number one seed. Syracuse’s freshmen are the best in the country and have led them to the top of a very competitive Big East, yet are still behind Pitt and Notre Dame in the polls. How about a little respect for these fine teams?

Lastly, how good would Kansas be if they had just a little bit of luck this season? Even without Wayne Simeon, they’re still atop the toughest conference in the country, the Big Twelve. If they had him healthy, they would be my pick to win it all!

This Week’s Heat-Miser Award

Rafael Aruajo, BYU
31 points, 13-16 shooting, 9 rebounds, 5 steals versus Air Force

The Cougars center broke out of his slump against the smaller Falcons frontline with the best game of his career. Even more impressive was his defensive effort in forcing numerous turnovers.

This Week’s Snow-Miser Award

David Rottinghaus, Wyoming
0 points, 0-3 shooting, 3 turnovers, 5 fouls versus San Diego State

Rott is no Marcus Bailey, that’s for sure. The junior swingman stunk up the “haus” in the Cowboys loss to a rising San Diego State team.


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