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Mountain West Notebook

December 24, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Mountain West Notebook

by Bob Thurman

Saturday Sweep

This past Saturday was a busy day in the Mountain West Conference as seven of its eight teams played in arenas from Florida to California. By night’s end, all teams would come out victorious in a nice sweep before the Christmas break. Here’s a rundown of each contest:

UNLV vs. Auburn

The Auburn Tigers left the confines of Memorial Coliseum for only the second time this season as they faced the Rebels in the Las Vegas Showdown. Auburn had already beaten two other MWC foes, Colorado State and Air Force, quite easily at home this season. Meanwhile, UNLV was coming off a disappointing 74-73 loss to Northern Arizona, so the Tigers came into the game quite confident.

The game was tight most of the first half, until the Rebs went on a nice run the last five minutes to take a 39-32 lead at the half. In the second half, the Vegas crowd had plenty to cheer about as their team looked like the Runnin’ Rebels of old, pushing the ball up the court for plenty of easy buckets. The Tigers never got closer than six points as UNLV cruised to an impressive 82-69 victory. It was the team’s best game of the season, as all five starters scored in double figures. In addition, the Rebs frontline out-muscled and out-hustled the big, athletic Tigers 41-27 on the boards. It was quite a reversal from the pounding they took from Stanford just a week ago.

BYU vs. Weber State

The league leading Cougars hosted Weber State, champions of the Big Sky Conference. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, leading scorer Slobodan Ocokoljic missed the game with the flu and it cost them dearly, as Rafael Araujo and the Cougars frontline dominated down low. BYU shot a sizzling 58% from the field and committed only 11 turnovers in their 86-65 victory.

Colorado State vs. Stetson

The Rams were coming off a rough week and things didn’t look better as they had to travel to the Sunshine state to face Stetson. Despite the hot shooting of E.J Gordon, who lit up the Rams for 31 points, the Hatters fell short 79-70. CSU center Matt Nelson finally played up to his potential, scoring 25 points including 13 of 13 from the free throw line. Colorado State continues its Florida swing this week by visiting South Florida before heading home for Christmas.

San Diego State vs. Eastern Washington

The Aztecs continued their inspired play by jumping out to a 16 point first half lead against visiting EWU. The Eagles came back in the second half, cutting the lead to two points. However, SDSU put together a nice 17-3 run to break it open before cruising to a 79-66 win. Unsung forward Aerick Sanders led the way with 24 points, hitting on all 11 of his shots.

New Mexico vs. Coppin State

In a much anticipated game for Lobo fans, New Mexico heralded the arrival of two key transfers, forward Danny Granger and guard Troy DeVries. The newbies didn’t disappoint, as Granger tallied 18 points and 9 rebounds, while DeVries dished out 12 assists in the Lobos’ 74-56 win over hapless Coppin State. With the arrival of these two talented players, there may finally be some good news coming from Albuquerque after all of the bad press that’s come out of there lately.

Wyoming vs. Winthrop

The Cowboys love playing at home and it showed in their 79-49 thumping of Winthrop. The game belonged to point guard Jason Straight, who broke the school record with 15 assists. Center Mory Correa was the main benefactor of Straight’s generosity with the ball as he poured in 18 points on 6-7 shooting. As usual, the Pokes defense was stifling, limiting the Eagles to only 30% shooting from the field.

Air Force vs. Charleston Southern

Lastly, the Academy showed Charleston Southern its defenses by holding them to only 10 points in the first half of their 67-46 win. It was the lowest single half point total in the last 25 years of Falcons basketball, and showed once again why they lead the country in scoring defense. Their offense wasn’t too shabby either, shooting 54% for the game, including 47% from 3-point land.

What About the Utes?

Even though they weren’t part of the fun on Saturday, Utah did have two games this week and their performances were like night and day.

Friday night, CS-Northridge visited Salt Lake City to see if they could give the Utes their first taste of defeat at home. Nope! The Matadors kept it close for most of the game, but Utah pulled away in the final five minutes to win 73-57. Andrew Bogut, Richard Chaney and Nick Jacobson combined for 57 of the team’s total points.

The win on Friday was in sharp contrast to the dismal performance against LSU in Baton Rouge earlier in the week. The Tigers, fresh off a 17 day layoff due to finals, stormed out of the gate early and never relinquished the lead in their 65-51 victory. Rick Majerus’ club never got in sync offensively, shooting only 35% from the game including a dismal 2-9 on 3-pointers. Meanwhile, the Utes big frontline was no match for the quicker, athletic Tigers, who out-rebounded them 42-30. The ugly loss was just another example of Utah’s schizophrenia on the road, where they have lost three of four games. The only game they survived was a tight 51-48 win at Stony Brook. Another road test awaits them this week as they travel to Colorado to face the always tough Buffaloes.

Chairman of the Boards

San Diego State is off to a 7-3 start thanks to the contribution of numerous newcomers, including starting backcourt Wesley Stokes and Brandon Heath. However, the biggest reason for their success is due to the improvement of someone who’s been with the program longer than anyone. Senior Aerick Sanders has quietly become one of the league’s top inside players.

Despite being under 200 pounds all of his career, he’s always been one of the league’s better rebounders, even during those early days when playing time was limited. His wiry frame, long arms and soft hands allow him to navigate through bigger bodies and grab anything that comes near him, especially on the offensive glass.

This season, he’s become one of the nation’s leading rebounders with over 11 per game, including almost 5 offensive boards a game. Contrast this to Colorado State’s Matt Nelson, who averages only 5 and 1 respectively, despite having a 4-inch, 45-pound advantage.

Sanders has also been his team’s top defender, usually guarding the opponents top inside player but also possessing the ability to guard players out on the wing. However, it’s on the offensive end where the senior has improved the most. Limited to mostly put-backs his previous three years, this season he has shown the ability to hit the mid-range jumper, along with an occasional drive to the hoop. His efficiency at scoring (65% field goal percentage) has allowed him more opportunities to touch the ball on the offensive end, and he’s responded by boosting his scoring average from 6 to 14 points per game.

Sanders has already won one MWC Player of the Week award this season, but don’t think he’s satisfied with that. Look for this relentless warrior to continue to improve throughout the season and end up being an All-MWC player. He makes all us “skinny” guys proud!


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