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Mountain West Notebook

February 4, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Mountain West Notebook

by Bob Thurman

An Era Ends At Utah

Utah head coach Rick Majerus has always had two loves in his life: eating and basketball. Unfortunately, it looks like his love for the former will end his career in the latter. After checking into the hospital last Wednesday due to further chest pains, the charismatic coach announced his retirement at the end of this season.

Majerus is not only a legend in Salt Lake City, but is well-respected across the country by fans, players and coaches. His .742 winning percentage puts him into the top five amongst active coaches. He’s molded such players as Keith Van Horn, Andre Miller and most surprisingly, Michael Doleac into solid NBA players. And most importantly, he’s always been there for his players, even after they have long graduated.

Assistant Kerry Rupp, who filled in for Majerus last season to snap the nation’s longest home winning streak at BYU, was named interim coach. There is a chance he could return to the sidelines this season, but the reality of the situation is that we’ve probably seen the last of Coach Majerus roaming the baseline in his XXXL sweaters. The big man will be greatly missed in the Mountain West, along with the rest of the country. Godspeed to good health, coach!

MWC Makes Their Move

With the flurry of conference realignment happening, it was only a matter of time before the Mountain West Conference got into the act. Last Friday, Texas Christian University accepted a bid from the MWC to join the conference for the 2005-2006 season. TCU will leave a dismantled Conference USA to reunite with its former WAC foes before the eight broke away from the monstrous 16-team conference in 1998.

As always, the move was to improve the conference’s standing in football’s BCS system. Though the Horned Frogs have a solid football program, the addition of just them won’t give the conference an automatic spot in a BCS bowl since there are not enough teams to allow for the beloved conference championship game. However, with the BCS being as flawed as it is and a strong possibility of changes in the future, the MWC needed to grab the best program it can. And so it did. Now the conference will do the wise thing and stand pat to see how things fall into the place.

As for college basketball, the addition of TCU won’t have much of an effect in the near term. The Horned Frogs have struggled since the departure of Billy Tubbs and would most likely be the worst team in the conference this season. However, TCU has had a good basketball tradition and should be able to regain some of its lost glory under Neil Dougherty. Where the conference may benefit most is in attracting more recruits from Texas, an area where Colorado State has just begun to be successful. That should boost the talent level in the conference even higher in the future.

Monday’s Results

After routing BYU, the Air Force Academy faced an even tougher challenge against Utah, in what would be Rick Majerus’ last game. After an initial flurry by the Falcons, the Utes settled down and got back into the game before halftime 29-24. Things tightened up in the second half, as Utah took the lead on a three pointer by Richard Chaney. However, the Falcons defense took control late in the game and prevailed 62-49 to ensure sole possession of first place. Seniors A.J. Kuhle and Tim Keller combined for 33 points on 10-15 shooting, including connecting on all ten of their free throws.

In Albuquerque, a struggling BYU club faced in an up-and-coming New Mexico team who had just whipped Utah on Saturday in the Pit. The Cougars biggest concern was stopping Lobos star forward Danny Granger, who leads the conference in scoring at 21 points per game. Granger wasn’t to be stopped this night either, scoring 27 points and grabbing 8 rebounds against the big frontline of BYU. However, star center Rafael Araujo kept the Cougars in it with 21 points and 11 rebounds. With just seconds remaining, BYU’s Kevin Woodberry tipped in the tying basket. In the celebration, the Cougs Mark Bigelow came off the bench while the Lobos were taking the ball out, resulting in a technical foul. UNM’s Javin Tindall missed both free throws, which allowed Bigelow to breathe again momentarily. Unfortunately for him, the feeling didn’t last long when Troy DeVries tossed a perfect halfcourt pass to Granger for a game winning lay-up with a second left. The 65-63 win pushed the Lobos past BYU in the conference standings, a place they haven’t been in years.

Two hard-luck teams faced each other to see if either can build some momentum. Injury-plagued Colorado State hosted UNLV, who has played well but hasn’t many conference wins to show for themselves. The game turned out to be one of the more entertaining ones of the season. The Rams played well for most of the game, leading 60-44 with only seven minutes left. However, center Matt Nelson re-injured his right knee and had to leave the game. Immediately, the Rebels were reignited and quickly cut the lead to a single point. CSU’s Shelton Johnson had numerous opportunities to seal the win from the free throw line, but missed all four attempts. UNLV’s James Peters was able to hit one of his to send the game into overtime. In overtime, UNLV’s foul problems caught up with them, as four starters were forced to leave. Colorado State ended up winning 89-83. Nelson led the way with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Odartey Blankson led the Rebel charge with 20 points and 16 rebounds.

Finally, San Diego State traveled to Laramie to face a Wyoming team that had lost three in a row. The game featured a battle of two of the top point guards in the conference, the Cowboys’ Jay Straight and the Aztecs’ Wesley Stokes. In the end, Straight clearly won the battle by pumping in a career high 30 points while holding Stokes to just 6 points. However, the real story was walk-on Jerry Webb, who scored 10 first half points to bring the Pokes back from an early deficit. Without his effort, the 79-71 victory would have been for naught.

Saturday’s Results

The big game of the weekend pitted rivals BYU and Utah, both of whom were coming off bitter losses. Early on, the hometown fans didn’t have much to cheer about as their Utes played a horrible first half, trailing 34-19. In the second half, things started to heat up for Utah. Seniors Nick Jacobson and Mark Bigelow dueled for quite awhile in the second half, with both guys making big shots for their teams. However, Utah got inspired play from freshman Andrew Bogut, who came alive with 21 points and 12 rebounds. BYU, on the other hand, saw Rafael Araujo struggle with only 8 points on 3-15 shooting. In the end, the Utes won 64-56 to stay close to league leading Air Force. BYU, who already has four conference losses, needs to regroup quickly before their hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament are washed away.

Wyoming has yet to win a game on the road this season, but had a great chance to snap that losing streak in Fort Collins. The Cowboys had a five point lead with 2 minutes to play, but some late turnovers and foolish fouls let Colorado State tie the game at 67 apiece. In overtime, Wyoming jumped on top once again and looked in control. However, rising Ram freshman Dwight Boatner came up with some key steals, including one that led to his game winning tip-in with seven seconds left. David Adams had one last shot to win it for the Cowboys, but it missed and they ended up losing a heartbreaker, 75-74. It was a gutty win for the Rams, who played without center Matt Nelson and lost two other big men to fouls along the way.

In Las Vegas, New Mexico was also trying to snap a road losing streak, this one sitting at 20 consecutive games. It didn’t take long to extend that streak as the Lobos fell behind by as much as 20 points before losing 89-80. The Rebels scorched the nets in the first half, shooting 72% from the field including 7-10 from three point land. UNM made a good run in the second half to pull within 5 points, but the Rebels responded with a run of their own to seal the victory. Lobo star Danny Granger was held to a season low 12 points, as he battled foul trouble all game long. On the other hand, the Rebels had three players score 20 or more points as the Lobo defense struggled to contain them.

Lastly, conference leaders Air Force had to leave the comfort of Clune Arena and travel to San Diego for a test against the athletic Aztecs. Unlike previous Falcon games, where they would sprint out to a quick lead, the Aztecs did a good job of keeping it close. However, A.J. Kuhle hit three big three pointers in a second half run to give the Academy the lead for good. The Falcons ended up hitting 11 three pointers total in their 57-43 victory. Besides that, their defense was superb, forcing 19 turnovers and holding star Aerick Sanders to just 4 points and 5 rebounds. The win by Air Force was their thirteenth in a row and ensures a winning record for the first time since 1977-78. The loss was San Diego State’s third in a row.

This Week’s MWC Heat-Miser Award

J.K. Edwards, UNLV

21 points, 9-9 FG shooting, 10 rebounds, 7 blocks versus New Mexico

The unsung senior center played an almost perfect game against a rising Lobo team. The win was vital for the Rebels, who would have fell to the basement of the conference standings had they lost another close one.

This Week’s MWC Snow-Miser Award

Mory Correa, Wyoming

2 points, 0-3 shooting, 2 rebounds, 5 fouls versus Colorado State

The athletic big man has improved dramatically this season, but this performance was a flashback to his days of riding the bench, which is where he was often in this game thanks to many silly fouls!

     

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