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WAC Notebook

December 9, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



WAC Notebook

by Phil Dailey

Times are changing

As reported earlier in our Western Athletic Conference preview, this year’s WAC will not look like it has in the past. So far, the top teams from last season find themselves struggling for success. Fresno State (1-3), Tulsa (2-3) and Hawaii (2-2) are all limping in the early weeks of nonconference play. With the top-teams of a year ago all near the bottom of the standings, it’s fairly obvious and surprising to some who’s at the top.

Despite the fact these perennial WAC contenders are not doing so well, it was anticipated – at least to us. However, let’s give some praise to many of the early season over-achievers who are not used to the spotlight. The list has to start with Texas-El Paso (4-1), which is off to its best start in recent memory. Congrats to second-year coach Billy Gillispie and the Miners. Another team searching for a rare winning season is Boise State (4-1). Like Gillispie, second year coach Greg Graham has the Broncos off to a splendid start. If not for a 6-point loss at home last week to Brigham Young (3-1), the Broncos would be undefeated.

The streak is over

Speaking of UTEP, Texas-El Paso finally put an end to its 28-game road losing streak last week in Las Cruces, N.M., with an 83-74 victory of New Mexico State. Give credit to sophomore transfer Jason Williams for his 24 points in the effort.

Now that the Miners have proven they can win on the road, the next test is to see if they can pack the house this week at home, and Coach Gillispie is calling for added support. After beating NMSU at their Pan American Center in front of 11,983 fans, Gillispie would like that type of support at home in the 12,000 seat Don Haskins Center. Despite its 3-0 record at home, UTEP is averaging less than 8,000 fans.

Jermaine Who?

For those fans out there who are unaware of Jermaine Blackburn, you might want to start taking notice. A newcomer to Boise State, Blackburn is definitely not new to the hard wood. A transfer from SW Missouri State-West Plains, Blackburn has taken the WAC by storm. In only four games as a Bronco, the 6-foot-6 junior forward is averaging more than 19 points per game in only 26 minutes. Blackburn’s 19.6 ppg is currently second in the conference.

Blackburn’s new nickname might just be Mr. Consistency after scoring 17 points against Portland, 25 against Utah Valley State, 18 against Eastern Oregon, 20 against BYU and 18 again against in-state rival Idaho.

The good news for Blackburn is that there is no pressure for him to score. This might change in the future, but as of now, he will only play in relief of five returning starters from a year ago.

Bulldogs lose in home tourney

The Fresno State Bulldogs have become accustomed to starting their season off at home in their own tournament. The McCaffrey Classic is supposed to be a warm up to the WAC season for the Bulldogs. In front of 14,420 fans on Saturday night in the new Save Mart Center, Fresno State recoded its first loss in the tournament in eight years.

The last time they lost in the classic was to Princeton way back in Jerry Tarkanian’s first year on campus. A good shooting performance of more than 57 percent proved not enough for the Bulldogs as they fell once again to Princeton (4-1), 72- 67.

“This was embarrassing,” Fresno State point guard Shantay Legans told the Fresno Bee. “We’ve got to take pride and stop someone on defense. Right now, we’re jokes.”

The jury is still out on whether or not the Bulldogs are jokes, but whatever the case, they need to turn the momentum around before they start thinking about defending their crown as WAC Champs.

Tulsa losses more than just a game

After beating cross-town rival Oral Roberts (4-3) last season 90-80, it was clear that Tulsa would once again have a solid season and contend for the WAC Championship. This year’s result was a bit different and could be a good indication of where the Golden Hurricane are headed in the future months.

Leading by a point at halftime, Tulsa failed to come out and put the game away losing to the Golden Eagles by six, 87-81. Despite 26 points from junior forward Jarius Glenn and 23 points from senior guard Jason Parker, the WAC Tournament champs were unable to get the victory.

It may be early in the season, and yeah, the conference schedule is still more than three weeks away, but if Tulsa is losing to teams like Oral Roberts of the Mid-Continent Conference and Georgia State (4-3) of the Atlantic Sun Conference, it might be a long season for head coach John Phillips and the Golden Hurricanes.

     

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