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WAC Notebook

January 30, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



WAC Notebook

by Phil Dailey

The Western Athletic Conference race is starting to heat up as it approaches the halfway point of the conference season. Leading the way for the WAC crown may be a bit of a surprise to some, but remind many of previous years.

After losing its top players from a year ago, Hawaii has made believers out of many doubters, including myself. Known as a poor shooting team away from Honolulu, the Warriors seem to have found their balance and just might be the team to beat come WAC tourney time. However, with the Warriors’ loss Wednesday night against Rice, the WAC now sports a tie for first place. Close behind is Fresno State, preseason favorite Nevada, UTEP and Boise State – all in the mist of tight battle for the regular season title.

Bulldogs find offense

Not much has been said about Louisiana Tech this season – largely because it has been unable to score enough points to surpass its opponents. Last week, LA Tech decided to change it up a bit by beating Southern Methodist, 75-61, in Dallas. Freshman forward Paul Millsap deserves some credit for his efforts all season long averaging 14.8 points per game as well as leading the nation in rebounds with 12.5 a contest. The Bulldogs improved their woeful road record to 3-6 on the year.

“It was a good win because it was our first road win in league play this year,” head coach Keith Richard said. “It was probably our best offensive performance of the year.”

La Tech went on a 9-0 run late in the game to seal the deal, giving Richard his 100th win of his career.

Richard believes a new found team balance allowed the Bulldogs to pull through with the win.

“This happened to be a game where, in particular, Corey (Dean) and Donell (Allick) made some shots, hopefully this will carry on for the next game,” Richard said.

LA Tech has yet another tough road trip again this week as it travels to Idaho to take on Boise State and then to Texas to battle UTEP.

Battle in Reno set for Saturday

This weekend, two of the top teams in the conference square off in Northern Nevada. Fresno State might want to take notice before they arrive on campus that this year’s Wolf Pack squad has been unstoppable at the Lawler Events Center. That is of course if you forget about that preseason loss in Reno, Nev., to Humboldt State back on Nov. 11. Well, that game didn’t count of course, and Nevada sure has redeemed itself as it has gone 9-0 with wins against Kansas, Tulsa and against Rice, 101-76, last Saturday night.

Despite its six losses on the year, Nevada is playing like a tournament team at home and Rice head coach Willis Wilson has one big reason why.

“We didn’t have an answer for Kirk Snyder; He looked like a man amongst boys,” Wilson said about the 25-point defeat to Nevada last week.

Snyder is averaging 17.9 ppg and nearly six boards per game.

Of course everyone is well aware of Snyder at this point, but people around the WAC are now learning of another stand-out player for the Wolf Pack. 6-foot-11 freshman forward/center Nick Fazekas is starting to play a much bigger role for Nevada. The Arvada, Colo., product is scoring 11.7 ppg along with his 7.1 boards a game.

“He’s in his comfort zone. He’s doing a good job on the offensive side of the floor,” Wolf Pack head coach Trent Johnson said.

Nevada is going to need all it can get this weekend from its two top players. The last time Fresno State and Nevada went at it on the hard-court, the Bulldogs squeaked out a 107-99 double overtime win in Fresno, Calif.

You can count on the Bulldogs to be prepared once more for a shootout.

“It’s going to be a very tough game,” Fresno State head coach Ray Lopes said. “If your not prepared for a fight…you’re just going to get beat down.”

Rice is all fired up

The Owls continue to impress as they took down one of the league’s best Wednesday night in Houston. Rice squeaked out a 76-73 home win against Hawaii to move into a tie for first place in WAC. Jason McKrieth led the way for Rice with 19 points while Michael Harris added another 18.

“He’s really starting to come into a zone; he’s become a very, very complete player,” said Rice head coach Willis Wilson earlier in the week about McKrieth.

“We certainly would not have the success without Jason.”

McKrieth averages nearly 15 points and 5 boards per game for the Owls.

Many folks may be surprised at the success of Rice this year, but for the most part they return a squad that won 19 games a year ago.

This weekend the Owls should have a cake-walk at friendly Autry Court against the WACs only winless team, San Jose State.

Quick hits around the WAC (listed in conference standing)

Rice (14-5, 6-2) – Win against Fresno State last week was the first win ever in Fresno for the Owls. Only team the last two years to not lose back-to-back games.

Hawaii (14-5, 6-2) – The Warriors had their six-game winning streak snapped Wednesday against Rice. It was the 15th longest in the nation. Center Haim Shimonovich is the WAC’s career leader in block shots with 132.

Fresno State (10-7, 6-2) – Shantay Legans, Senior transfer from California, continues to lead the WAC in assist with 5.4 per game. He is the first person ever in the WAC to do so on the lowest scoring team in the conference.

Nevada (11-6, 5-3) – 101 points scored last week against Rice was the first time the Wolf Pack has gone over the century mark in Trent Johnson’s four years as head coach. Senior Garry Hill-Thomas lays claim to the most career active free-throw attempts in the WAC with 549.

UTEP (13-4, 4-3) – The Miners are currently 10-1 at home. 71 teams won less than ten games last year including UTEP. Of them, the Miners have the best winning percentage (.765) this season.

Boise State (11-6, 3-4) – Bryan Defares, Booker Nabors and Eric Lane all sat out last week’s 64-58 loss in Hawaii due to unspecified rule violations. Defares (918) and Nabors (914) are projected to be the next two players in the WAC to score 1,000 or more points. Two more wins for the Broncos ties last years total at 13.

Louisiana Tech (9-8, 3-4) – No WAC player has ever led the nation in rebounds, and only one freshman ever has accomplished that feat. Paul Millsap averages slightly less than one board a game than Louisiana State’s Jaime Lloreda.

Southern Methodist (8-9, 2-5) – The Mustangs have lost five of their last six games. SMU is 3-4 in games decided by 5 points or less.

Tulsa (6-10, 2-5) – Its ten losses this year match last seasons total. Only six wins this year, but the Golden Hurricane have won 20 or more games each of the past five seasons.

San Jose State (5-12, 0-7) – The Spartans have lost 9 games in a row. Demetrius Brown leads the WAC in steals with 2.3 per game.

     

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