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Mountain West Notebook

February 10, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Mountain West Notebook

by Bob Thurman

Who’s Got Balance?

I happened to watch some of the Tulsa-UTEP game on Saturday. It wasn’t because I was thinking of crossing over to the dark side, but it was to check out the most improved team in the country: UTEP. While watching the game, one of the commentators made a startling statement. He claimed out of all the conferences out west, the WAC was the most balanced. Now I understand he was just doing his job shilling for his conference, but that’s a pretty outlandish claim.

First off, before Wyoming’s loss on Saturday, there wasn’t a single team in the Mountain West with a losing record. Only the SEC can make such a claim. Secondly, out of the eight teams in the conference, five of them are tied for third place! Wyoming, the last place team, is only a game back. Only Air Force and Utah have been able to fend off the wolves of parity in the conference, but there’s still plenty of time left in the season for them to drift back into the pack. The WAC may have a cluster of teams battling for first place, but the lower half of the conference is very weak. Nobody believes San Jose State will win the WAC this season, but the fans in Laramie believe if the Cowboys can beat Dayton, they can still win the MWC.

Oh Henry!

Though Wyoming fans still have hope, their team suffered another setback this week when starting guard Tim Henry decided to transfer for personal reasons. The 6’5″ sophomore spurned his home state of Utah to play for the Cowboys this season. He started 17 of 19 games, averaged almost 6 points per game, and played solid defense. Though his offensive game had not blossomed this season, Henry would have been counted on heavily next season to provide some scoring punch alongside point guard Jay Straight.

Monday’s Results

After taking out favorites BYU and Utah, Air Force had to hit the road to face UNLV. The Rebels’ athleticism would pose a difficult challenge for the Falcons. As usual, Air Force jumped out to an early lead. However, the Rebels stayed calm and responded with a 14-0 run to take the lead, one that they would never relinquish.

The Academy should have known it would have been a tough night when UNLV scorched them with 31 points in the first half. It was the first time this season they had given up more than 25 points in the first half. The Rebs one upped them in the second half, by scoring 32 points on their way to a 63-50 victory. Vegas dominated the boards, pulling down 41 rebounds to the Falcons’ 20. J.K. Edwards had little problem scoring inside on his way to a game high 19 points on 9-11 shooting. It was a good win for the Rebs, as they proved they can win in a half court game against a very disciplined team, something they’ve had problems with in the past.

In the other game, San Diego State was hoping to snap its three-game losing streak against New Mexico. The first half was tight throughout, with New Mexico clinging to a 38-35 halftime lead. In the second half, the Aztecs started to break it open and were up 65-53 with five minutes remaining. However, the Lobos made a good run, cutting the lead down to two points with a chance to win but Javin Tindall missed a quick three point attempt and SDSU hit its free throws to win, 72-68. The Aztecs out-rebounded the Lobos 43-27, with Aerick Sanders hauling down 10 of them to go along with his game high 27 points.

Saturday’s Results

With a big win against league leading Air Force, UNLV felt confident in facing BYU at the Marriott Center. The Cougars had been struggling, losing three in a row and falling quickly in the standings. In the first half, both teams struggled to score as BYU took a 31-22 lead into the break. Things improved in the second half for the Rebels, as they started knocking down some threes to get back in it. With less than a minute left, Odartey Blankson put Vegas up by a point with two free throws. Mark Bigelow countered, but Vegas had a shot to win it in the closing seconds. However, BYU’s Mike Hall blocked Demetrius Hunter’s shot and was fouled in the scramble to retrieve it. His two free throws made the final tally 64-61 in BYU’s favor. Rafael Araujo bounced back from a poor performance at Utah to score 18 points and grab 13 rebounds.

At Utah, San Diego State tried to snap a 20-game losing streak in Salt Lake City. Early on, things looked good as Chris Walton led the Aztecs to a 30-27 first half lead. In the second half, Utah’s Nick Jacobson and Richard Chaney started heating up and led the Utes to a 61-52 lead with two minutes left. SDSU didn’t give up and pulled within three, but couldn’t break the streak in a 64-61 loss. The Utes were led by Chaney and Jacobson with 17 and 16 points, respectively, and only committed 9 turnovers to remain a game behind Air Force in the standings.

After their first conference loss to UNLV, Air Force was happy to be back home to face Wyoming. It showed in the first few minutes as the Falcon defense was relentless, causing numerous turnovers. Offensively, the Academy was nearly flawless, as the usually solid Cowboy defense withered under a downpour of three pointers. Air Force shot an impressive 66% from the field on their way to an 83-71 victory. Tim Keller led five players in double figures with 20 points, including 11-11 from the free throw stripe. The win snapped an eight game losing streak against the Pokes, and kept the Falcons in first place.

Lastly, New Mexico was back at the Pit to face Colorado State. The Rams, who were without Matt Nelson for yet another game, struggled offensively all night long in the 63-51 loss. They managed only 20 first half points and only had one player in double figures – freshman Dwight Boatner with 11. Meanwhile, the Lobos received balanced scoring, led by Troy DeVries with 15 points.

This Week’s MWC Heat-Miser Award

Aerick Sanders, San Diego State

27 points, 10-14 FG shooting, 10 rebounds versus New Mexico

The country’s most improved player continues to carry the load inside for the Aztecs in a game they needed to win.

This Week’s MWC Snow-Miser Award

Joel Gerlach, Air Force

5 points, 1-10 shooting, 3 turnovers versus UNLV

The steady senior is one of the reasons for the Falcons’ great season, but he really struggled with his shot in their first conference loss.

     

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