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March 18, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Big West Conference Notebook

by Shaan Hassan

Utah State Advances – As Predicted

For once I was right. In last week’s column I said Utah State would win the conference
title as the third seed, and indeed they did. Everything I predicted would happen did
happen to a “T,” with the exception of one thing: the championship. And I’m not sure
anyone saw that coming.

In the conference championship game, number three Utah State faced off against number four
Cal Poly SLO, March 15 at the Anaheim Convention Center. As the underdog and trying to be
this year’s UCSB, Cal Poly never ventured far from the lead and were in the game until the
end, but the Aggies prevailed 57-54. Guard Cardell Butler led Utah State with 17 points
and eight rebounds, while forward Desmond Penigar had 13 points and six rebounds. The
Aggies’ defense held the Mustangs’ forward Shane Schilling to zero points on 0-8 shooting.
Guard Jason Allen had 21 points.

To get to this point, Utah State first had to fend off sixth seed Cal State Fullerton and
they did just that with an 89-83 overtime win in the first round. Penigar led the Aggies
with 17 points and seven rebounds while Butler added 19 points. Fullerton received
numerous clutch shots from forward Anthony Bolton and guard Ralphy Holmes. Bolton scored
25 points on 5-11 three-point shooting and 10-10 from the free throw line. Holmes poured
in 24 points on 3-6 three-point shooting. Both teams shot 50 percent from behind the arc
and 80 percent from the charity stripe.

In their next game, the Aggies edged their biggest foe, second seed UC Irvine 62-55.
Penigar guided the Aggies with 24 points on 6-12 shooting, while the Anteaters were led by
guard Mike Hood’s 14 points on 4-6 three-point shooting. Both teams shot 40 percent from
the field and behind the arc.

During Cal Poly’s road, they first knocked off fifth seed Idaho 54-50. Cal Poly was led by
Schilling’s 15 points and forward Varnie Dennis’ 17 points. Their defense held Idaho in
check as just one Vandal scored in double digits, forward Rashaad Powell who scored 16.
Both teams shot 20 percent from behind the arc.

Cal Poly then had to prepare for top seed UCSB. With stifling defense, the Vandals upset
the Gauchos 67-52. Dennis had 18 points and 10 rebounds for Cal Poly and the Mustangs’
defense held UCSB to just 30 percent field goal shooting and an even worse 20 percent from
three-point land. Guard Nick Jones still managed 19 points for the Gauchos.

In the two other first round games, UCSB defeated eight seed Pacific 53-44 and UCI held
off seventh seed Cal State Northridge in overtime, 70-64. Player of the Year forward
Branduinn Fullove led UCSB with 20 points and no Pacific player scored more than 12
points. In their game, UCI shot a horrendous 16-33 from the free throw line despite being
a 75 percent free throw shooting team on the season. Hood’s 16 points helped UCI with the
win. Forward Curtis Slaughter led CSUN with 17 points.

The 2003 Conference All-Tournament team featured MVP Penigar from Utah State in addition
to his Aggies’ teammates Butler and guard Mark Brown. Mustangs Dennis and Allen and UCI’s
Hood were also named.

The Aftermath

Despite Utah State winning the conference tournament for the second time in three years
and having a 24-8 overall record, the Aggies received no love from the NCAA committee as
they drew second seed Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament, March 20. In
addition to being just a 15 seed, Utah State also missed out by just one seed of playing
their first round game in Salt Lake City, Utah. Instead, it was 19-13 Colorado State that
drew the 14 seed and will play third seed Duke. The new pod system that is supposed to
give teams the chance to play closer to home apparently doesn’t apply to Utah State who
will play in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

After being upset by Cal Poly, UCSB still managed to receive a bid into the NIT tournament
thanks to its 18-13 overall record and regular season championship. They will face San
Diego State in San Diego, March 19.


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