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Mountain West Notebook

December 8, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Mountain West Notebook

by Bob Thurman

A Major Rebel-lion

For the past few seasons, UNLV has enjoyed an abundance of talented players, including lottery pick Marcus Banks. Yet without a NCAA Tournament appearance to show for it, the team has earned a reputation for underachieving. With only four lettermen returning, this season looked like another opportunity for the Rebs to disappoint their fans once again. However, a six pack of newcomers has come in to provide some needed energy to a program looking to win back its fans.

The Rebels have shot out of the gate this season, winning five of their first six games. More importantly, they’ve beaten a couple of quality Pac-Ten teams in Cal and USC, the latter in Los Angeles. The Trojan game was the first one on the road for UNLV this season, and the 92-83 victory will be noted come March. Three days later across town, the Runnin’ Rebs beat up Loyola Marymount 78-61 to sweep the LA road trip.

Leading the way for the Rebels has been Odartey Blankson, who sat out last season after transferring from Marquette. He may have missed his shot at playing in the Final Four last season, but he’s putting up MVP-like numbers in his new town. Besides scoring 19 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, he’s also playing some tough, physical defense as well. Blankson, along with redshirt Louis Amundson, are doing yeomen’s work inside while center J.K. Edwards is serving out his suspension.

In the backcourt, new PG Jerel Blassingame is adapting well after coming from junior college and is scoring 10 a game, along with dishing out 6 assists per contest. In Banks’ fashion, he’s also shown his ability to take the big shot when his jumper with three seconds left against USC forced overtime. Another former JUCO star, Romel Beck, is giving UNLV some needed scoring on the wing, while senior Demetrius Hunter is finally healthy and a steady force on the court.

The Las Vegas crew has a week off to prepare for its biggest game of the season at Stanford, who is pumped up after disposing of top-ranked Kansas. After that, the Rebels play their next six games at home heading into conference play. Assuming the bottom doesn’t fall out, this team could be the Mountain West’s strongest candidate in the flawed, yet precious RPI ratings.

Where’s My Mascot?

It’s been three years since San Diego State killed off its mascot, Monty Montezuma. In bowing to the scourge of political correctness, the university wasted $100,000 to remove the old logo, redesign it and create a new “culturally appropriate” mascot. Finally, a new one has been unveiled and the students got a chance to vote on it this past weekend. The new mascot is a loincloth-wearing human, toting a spear and shield, along with a huge feathered headdress. The results of the vote will be announced this Thursday, December 11.

Now that Steve Fisher has resurrected this program, it appears as though the university wants to get serious about its sports. This new mascot is fierce and brave, instead of the cartoon caricature that was the old mascot, Monty. Unfortunately, Monty was also loads of fun and kept the fans entertained when the team didn’t. Those who regularly attend college basketball games know what I mean. It’s a great place for fans of all ages to enjoy themselves, and a mascot plays a big role in that. They are the ones that lead the cheers, lurk the stands, play with the kids, and mess with the students. How often do you think they’ll let this new mascot do any of that, especially with a spear in hand? It’s a shame really, but at least it’s not a dancing tree or a hawk that never stops flapping its frickin’ wings!

The Rest of the Results

The Rebels weren’t the only team to score a big upset this past week. BYU pulled off a huge 76-71 win against an underappreciated Oklahoma State team. Rafael Araujo dominated inside scoring 32 points, along with hauling down 17 rebounds. This followed a 75-69 road win against a tough Boise State squad. A good week for the Cougs.

After a tough week in New York City, Utah was glad to come home and beat in-state rival Utah State, 56-45. On Saturday, the Utes kicked it up a notch and destroyed San Diego, 82-39. In fact, guard Nick Jacobson outscored the entire Torero team in the first half, 21-20. Besides playing great defense, the Runnin’ Utes were able to cut down on turnovers, which has been its biggest problem so far this season.

San Diego State also went undefeated for the week, disposing of hapless San Diego, 66-53 and then nearby UC-San Diego, 76-51. Freshman Brandon Heath continued his hot outside shooting by pouring in 27 points, including 4-5 from three point range in the Aztecs win over the Toreros.

Wyoming traveled away from Laramie for the first time this season and took one on the chin from an always tough Kansas State squad, 80-67. K-State held the Cowboys to 38% shooting and out-rebounded them, 47-25. The Boys came back home on Saturday to whip a talented Washington team, 92-76. This game was over at the half with the Huskies already down by 30 points. Wyoming scorched the nets, shooting 58% for the game.

The South wasn’t very hospitable to Colorado State this week as Auburn beat them soundly, 84-54. The Rams shot a dismal 35% and turned the ball over 23 times against a good Tiger team. CSU came back later in the week to defeat Texas Southern, 91-66 and Gardner Webb, 89-59.

New Mexico and Air Force both had rough weeks. The Lobos lost badly to in-state rival New Mexico State, 67-48 earlier in the week. They bounced back strongly against Bobby Knight’s Texas Tech squad, keeping it very tight for most of the game. However, the Red Raiders kept their heads the last three minutes and pulled away, 67-58. The Falcons also traveled to Auburn this week, only to meet the same fate as CSU. Its 68-49 loss could have been worse considering Air Force only had 10 rebounds the entire game. Ouch!

     

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