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Mountain West Notebook

November 25, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Mountain West Notebook

by Bob Thurman

Let the Season Begin

The first week of the college basketball season saw all members of the Mountain West get a taste of some action, and the conference started 2003-04 on a positive note by winning nine of ten contests. Wyoming’s tough 67-62 home loss to Southern Illinois on Saturday night spoiled an otherwise perfect week for the MWC, and the defeat may be the first of many this season for the Cowboys — something their fans have grown unaccustomed to these past few years.

Battle of the Big Men

The most interesting MWC game so far was the Utah-Minnesota contest in the Preseason NIT Tournament. These two teams met in the second round, with the winner advancing to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden. Minnesota previously disposed of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, while the Utes struggled to beat Georgia State 46-38 to setup their televised meeting.

In their first collegiate games, Minnesota’s Kris Humphries and Utah’s Andrew Bogut showed off their impressive skills by posting double-doubles in leading their teams to victory. Now they would face each other in a battle pitting two of the top freshmen big men in the country against each other.

Early on, Humphries tried to keep the Gophers close but was hampered by his teammates who were ice cold from the field. Meanwhile, the Utes, who clamped down on defense and were steady on offense, jumped out to a 32-21 halftime lead. Bogut showed his versatility by scoring from inside, on mid-range jumpers and on a three pointer from the top of the key on his way to a double-double by halftime. Minnesota was able to cut the lead down to four twice in the second half, but Utah pulled away to win comfortably 66-54.

Humphries finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds and is clearly the Gopher’s best player already. He’s a strong inside player with a good midrange game and decent ball handling skills. However, the freshman struggled at times to get a good shot against the Utes stifling team defense, making only 9 of 21 shots.

Bogut’s 19 points (on 8 of 9 shooting) and 18 rebounds were impressive, but didn’t show how much of a force he was for the Utes. Whenever the Gophers would make a run, the big Aussie would sink a tough shot, grab a big rebound or deliver a precise pass for an easy two points that would immediately stop any momentum from building. His ability to shoot with both hands, along with his long frame, made it tough for anyone to clamp down on him offensively. His lone weakness is his lateral defense, which Humphries exploited on a few occasions.

When talking about these two big men, I believe the “freshmen” part can be dropped already. Kris Humphries and Andrew Bogut are two of the best big men in the country, period. So be sure to catch them while you can, because they may not be around for too long.

Other Games

Before heading off to New York to play a very athletic Texas Tech team, Utah squeezed out a difficult 51-48 victory over Stony Brook Sunday night. Sophomore Richard Cheney led the Utes with 21 points, including the game winning 3-pointer.

BYU opened the season thrashing in-state Southern Utah, 88-54. Freshman guard Michael Rose made a fine debut with 26 points (8 of 13 from three point land) along with 6 assists. Add in 16 points from junior college recruit Mike Hall, and you can see why Cougar fans were asking “Travis who?”.

Colorado State also had an easy time defeating an overmatched BYU-Hawaii team, 84-53. The Rams were able to play their entire bench, with nobody spending more than 21 minutes on the court. New Mexico was in a similar situation in their 95-42 blowout victory over San Francisco State.

San Diego State and Air Force also came up with big wins in their openers. The Aztecs beat Long Beach State 74-44, with another talented freshman, Marcus Slaughter, leading the way with 19 points. Meanwhile, Air Force used a balance attack and stingy defense to hold off Arkansas Pine-Bluff 63-40.

Lastly, a new look UNLV squad struggled to hold off a hot Delaware State team, 65-59. Even though UNLV shot 55% from the field and committed only ten turnovers, the Rebels’ needed Odartney Blankson (13 points and 8 rebounds) to step up in time to help UNLV pull out the victory. I’m sure Coach Spoonhour won’t be too upset if his team continues to perform like this, even if the game is a struggle.

     

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