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Mountain West Notebook

December 15, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Mountain West Notebook

by Bob Thurman

The Cougars Are Climbing

With two blowout victories this past week, BYU is quickly becoming the most dangerous team in the Mountain West Conference. Buoyed by their big win over Oklahoma State the week before, the Cougs’ confidence shone through in their 92-56 manhandling of Western Oregon. BYU had five players in double figures, shot 54% from the field, and out-rebounded the Wolves 43-21.

On Saturday, BYU hosted a talented yet underachieving USC team. Both teams shot the ball extremely well in the first half, but the Cougars were able to hit 8 of 14 three pointers to take a double digit lead into halftime. In the second half, Brigham Young’s defense shut down the Trojans offense, and cruised to an 85-61 victory. USC committed 19 turnovers, shot only 25% from beyond the arc, and only 29% from the line. Meanwhile, the Cougs shot 53% from the field, including 12-24 from three. Center Rafael Araujo dominated the Trojan frontline by scoring 28 points and hauling down 11 rebounds. It was the big Brazilian’s fifth consecutive double-double. Swingman Mark Bigelow showed he’s out of his early season shooting slump by tossing in 17 points, while Luiz Lemes added 8 assists and 8 rebounds.

BYU’s early season success can be attributed to its pair of Brazilian imports. Last season, opposing teams could count on center Rafael Araujo spending plenty of time on the bench due to fatigue or foul trouble. This season, he’s cut down on his fouls and is in his best shape ever, allowing him to tear up opposing frontlines. He’s doing such a good job at it, that Coach Cleveland has basically been starting four guards with the big guy the past few games.

Araujo’s improvement can also be attributed to the solid play of senior point guard Luiz Lemes. Buried on the bench last season, the fellow Brazilian has taken over the point duties and has brought stability to the Cougars’ backcourt. Despite his limited scoring ability, Lemes is dishing out over 5 assists per game along with 3.5 rebounds per game. His emergence, along with former junior college All-American Mike Hall and sweet shooting freshman Mike Rose, has turned a questionable backcourt into one of the league’s best.

The Rams Are Falling

After a nice run last March, Colorado State was a popular pick to be in the upper echelon of the conference this season. Yet the Rams have struggled early on, winning only half of their first eight games. Coach Layer improved the non-conference schedule this season, including games at Auburn and Oklahoma State. However, both games turned into 30+ point blowouts that may have killed the Rams’ confidence. It was evident by their two disappointing losses this past week.

In-state rival Colorado rode into Fort Collins after whipping Cal a few days earlier. CSU played well most of the first half, until the Buffs went on a 9-0 run to take a 42-38 lead at the half. Colorado extended their run to open the second half by scoring the first 7 points. The Rams never were able to cut it closer than the final 84-78 tally. Matt Williams led the Rams with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

After a good performance at home, the wheels fell off in the state capital on Saturday. CSU played a solid first half against the University of Denver, charging to a 41-32 halftime lead. Things turned ugly in the second half, as Denver went on a 17-0 run to take the lead, one which it never relinquished. The Pioneers doubled up the Rams 52-26 in the second half, cruising to an 84-67 upset victory.

Colorado State is struggling to adapt after steady seniors Brian Greene and Andy Birley graduated. The young Rams have been extremely sloppy with the ball, committing an astonishing 20 turnovers per game. Center Matt Nelson has not played up to his potential, while the backcourt has been inconsistent at best; erratic at worst. With their only significant win this season being at Drake, Coach Layer has to wonder what needs to be done to get the magic back. The weeks ahead may answer his question, as CSU travels to Stetson and South Florida, before hosting #17 Purdue.

Mascot Update

The students and alumni of San Diego State University overwhelmingly approved the proposed Aztec Warrior as their new mascot this past week. It’s unknown when Monty’s heir will make his debut, but the hope is to have him roaming the stands sometime in the spring semester of 2004.

Inside the Mountain West

The league had a quiet week for the most part, but Wyoming squeezed in two games against western rivals. Earlier in the week, the Cowboys took on an inconsistent Cal squad, one that has beaten BYU but lost to UNLV. Wyoming hung tough the first half, before the Bears blew it open in the second half as they won going away, 80-55. Cal’s fine freshmen trio of Powe, Kately and Ubaka combined for half of their points.

Saturday, the Pokes went to Casper to play a tough Montana State team in the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Wyoming Shootout. Senior guard David Adams filled in for injured Dion Sherrell and poured in 20 points to lead Wyoming to a 63-55 victory. Sherrell’s status is still uncertain.

The rest of the teams only had one game apiece this week. The biggest amongst them was UNLV hitting the road to face #12 Stanford. The Cardinal dominated inside against the smaller Rebels, out-rebounding them 36-16. Both teams shot over 50% from the field, but Stanford seemed to out-hustle Vegas to every loose ball in their 86-71 victory.

It was San Diego State’s turn to try to defeat Bobby Knight and his Texas Tech squad, something two other MWC teams have failed to do. The Aztecs’ star freshman Brandon Heath kept the game close, pouring in 30 points. However, as in previous games, the Red Raiders kept their cool at the end, pulling away for a 78-68 win. Andre Emmett led five players in double figures with 19 points.

The other three MWC teams had better success in their only outings of the week. Utah had no problem with Savannah State, beating them 87-39. New Mexico edged out Sacramento State, 77-63. Javin Tindall and Dave Chiotti combined for 46 points in the win. Lastly, Air Force held off Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 56-53. The win pulled the Falcons back above .500 for the season to 3-2.


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