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WAC Notebook

January 23, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

WAC Notebook

by Phil Dailey

The Western Athletic Conference season is well under way with many surprises. The biggest shock of this young conference season would have to be in El Paso. Currently the UTEP (12-3, 3-2) hoops squad is 10-1 at home and turning heads in the WAC as well as around the country. Some of the respect being tossed the Miners’ way should be directed at guard/forward Omar Thomas who was named the WAC player of the week for his efforts last week against Nevada (9-6, 3-3) and Fresno State (9-6, 5-1).

The junior from Philadelphia averaged 21.5 points and 6.0 rebounds as UTEP swept its two games against the Wolf Pack and the Bulldogs. Last Thursday, Thomas scored 28 points and added seven boards in a 79-76 win at the Don Haskins Center against Nevada. Saturday Thomas followed up with 15 points in a 72-58 win over Fresno State, giving the Bulldogs their first loss in conference play. For the week, he was 15-of-24 from the field (.625) and 13-of-16 from the free throw line (.812).

“He’s just on a hot streak, he’s playing very well,” UTEP head coach Billy Gillispie said.

As for such a great start by the Miners, Gillispie is proud of his team and the community of El Paso for the huge turnaround.

“I think we have improved quite a bit,” Gillispie said. “We have pretty good crowds and people support us.”

Maybe they can win on the road

We all know what’s been going on down in Hawaii over the past few years. A conference championship and two NCAA tournament appearances in the past three years has solidified the Warriors (12-3, 4-1) as one of the top-notch teams in the WAC. However, the lone drawback to most Hawaii basketball squads has been the inability to win on the road. So far this season the Warriors are 2-1 on the road in WAC play with their lone loss coming to first-place Fresno State. Yeah, that’s a good start and head coach Riley Wallace knows it.

Last Saturday the Warriors took down a feisty San Jose State (5-10, 0-5) in San Jose, Calif., 83-76.

“It was our best start there in a couple years,” Wallace said. “All of our guys were hitting their shots.”

Speaking of hitting shots, 6-foot-5 Michael Kuebler continues to lead the WAC in scoring with 19.8 points per game.

Wallace says he’s been compared to former Hawaii standouts such as Carl English and Predrag Savovic

“He’s a better player than English and Savovic, he’s got a 4.0 and they only had 3.8’s.” Wallace said “He’s more complete than the other two.”

The Warriors welcome UTEP and Boise State (10-5, 2-3) to the Big Island this week before making the long journey to Houston to play Rice (11-4, 3-1) and to Tulsa to take on the Golden Hurricane (6-8, 2-3).

Filling big shoes

Tulsa may not be playing as well as they are used to, but after losing as much talent as they did last spring, they are doing just fine. One reason they have lost (only) eight games and not more is due in large part to the recent play of Anthony Price. The Woodlands, Texas product has been stepping it up for head coach John Phillips and the rest of the Golden Hurricane hoops team the last few games.

“The last two or three ball games he’s really carried the load for us,” Phillip said. “He’s really playing well on both ends of the floor and we’re doing a better job of getting him the basketball in scoring situations.”

Price scored 32 points, grabbed 20 boards, blocked four shots and had six steals in two Golden Hurricane wins last week against Boise State and Rice.

Let’s not forget who the real leader of this year’s Tulsa team is, as Jason Parker continues to impress, averaging more than 17 ppg. Don’t count out Tulsa just yet, as they have made the NCAA tourney four of the past six seasons and they might start to have the balance to get them back.

Quick hits around the WAC

• Louisiana Tech (8-8, 2-4) sports the nations top rebounder in Paul Millsap who averages 12.5 per game.

• Boise State, which had won just 13 games total last year, has already notched ten victories this season.

• Southern Methodist (8-7, 2-3) beat Top 25 ranked Purdue last month and has since gone 3-4.

• Senior transfer from Cal, Shantay Legans leads the WAC in assist with 5.8 a game.

• Preseason conference favorite Nevada (9-6, 3-3) has dropped its last three road games.

• Rice forward Michael Harris is second in the WAC in scoring at 18.6 per game.

• San Jose State owns the WAC’s longest current losing streak at eight — the last time they won was Dec. 20 (at Baylor).


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