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WAC Notebook

December 23, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

WAC Notebook

by Phil Dailey

It’s been a crazy start to the Western Athletic Conference hoops season. Not only are there a few teams making some surprising starts, but also many of the former conference title contenders are still continuing to struggle. Boise State (8-1) and Texas-El Paso (6-1) appear to be turning the most heads these days, while Tulsa (3-4) and Fresno State (2-5) are still not showing the championship form from a year ago. Nevada (5-3) and Southern Methodist (5-3) have the biggest wins of the early season as the Mustangs knocked off 17th ranked Purdue Sunday afternoon in the championship game of the Boilermaker Invitational and the Wolf Pack dismantled No. 6 Kansas in its home-town tournament.

The rest of the WAC teams are in the middle of the pack and there’s still uncertainly just how good they are at this point. Rice (6-2) has a four-point loss to its credit against 9th ranked Stanford, but other than that, it has not played any teams worth too much credit. The same can be said for Hawaii (5-2) and San Jose State (5-3) both of which are doing okay at this point, but are not playing any big-time teams.

Louisiana Tech (4-3) is fighting to stay over .500 in the early season despite unsuccessful match-ups against Southeastern Conference foes on the road.

So far in this young WAC season, there have been a few surprises. It’s going to be an interesting conference race to see who is good enough to make it to the post-season.

WAC starting to earn respect

On Sunday afternoon Bryan Hopkins made the biggest shot of his collegiate career. With less then 25 seconds remaining in the clock, Hopkins drove through Purdue defenders to score the game-winning basket pushing the Mustangs to 60-59 victory in the championship of game of Purdue’s holiday tournament.

“To win like this is tremendous for our guys,” SMU coach Mike Dement told The Associated Press. “It’s rare to win one of these.”

It’s about time SMU finally came through with a big win after all we gave them much respect picking it as one of the top teams in the conference.

Kris Lowe, Patrick Simpson and Justin Isham combined for 40 points in the victory.

Speaking of respect, our preseason conference champion has finally played as though we thought they could. Nevada made a statement on Sunday night in Reno coming out with force and taking a 20-point halftime lead against the former number one-ranked Jayhawks.

The game got as close as 68-61 with less than two minutes left, but the Wolf Pack would come through with clutch free-throws shutting down Kansas 75-61 at the Lawlor Event Center. Both teams made 23 of 57 field goals.

Preseason player of the year Kirk Snyder led all scorers with 29 points making 9 of 18 shot including three 3-pointers.

Free throws made the difference for the Wolf Pack as they shot 83 percent making 24 of 29, while Kansas shot 75 percent making 12 of 16. More than 100 fans stormed the court as 10,983 fans witnessed the game.

Both wins for SMU and Nevada may have shown the rest of the country that the WAC is not just another mediocre mid-major, but a conference that has the ability to hang with some of the powerhouse programs in the nation — every now and again of course.

Taking over on the big Island

Hawaii’s Michael Kuebler is taking over for the Warriors. Last year there was no doubt who was the man in Honolulu, but this year Carl English decide to take his skills to the NBA leaving a big question mark for scoring for head coach Riley Wallace. This season the Salem, Ore., native is leading the WAC by averaging 19 points per outing. Twice Kuebler has gone for 29 points.

Along with the Kuebler’s high-powered scoring, the Warriors are also getting much-needed production out of Phil Martin. In Saturday’s 92-64 win against New Orleans, Martin became the 11th player in school history to score 1,000 points. On the season, Martin is averaging 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds.

At the beginning of the season the Warriors were not picked to do so good this year, but if Kuebler and Martin can continue to shine, this year’s squad should improve on last years disappointing finish.

Big man turning heads in Spartanville

6-foot-8 San Jose State center Eric Walton is starting to make some noise around the WAC. The senior from Pensacola, Fla. (Ventura College) scored a career-high 27 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the Spartans’ 85-77 overtime win against Cal State Sacramento last week. Walton was 10-of-18 from the field and 7-of-7 from the free throw line. Last season he averaged just 5.5 points and 3.3 rebounds, but this year the he has more than doubled his output with 14.9 ppg and 8.9 boards. Walton was named WAC Player of the Week for his efforts


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