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Mountain West Notebook

February 17, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Mountain West Notebook

by Bob Thurman

Placing Bids

With the demise of the Pac-10, it’s interesting to see which western conference will end up with the most NCAA Tournament bids this season. With Stanford and Arizona the only locks, the Pac-10 would need somebody else to win its conference tournament just to have three teams invited to the Big Dance. The WAC has a nice race at the top of the conference going with Hawaii, Nevada and UTEP battling it out. However, those three teams have RPI’s hovering around 50, so it’s unlikely that all three will get bids. Gonzaga is one of the top teams in the country and is so far ahead of anyone in their conference that it’s unlikely they will lose again before the NCAA Tournament (and may not lose there either).

With that said, it seems quite plausible that the Mountain West could be the top western conference with three bids to the NCAA Tournament. Barring any major collapse, Utah is a lock. If Air Force ends up atop or tied with the Utes in the standings, there is no excuse to keep the Falcons out of the tournament despite its rather high RPI around 60. Despite an earlier slump, BYU still maintains a relatively high RPI (mid-40’s), but needs to keep winning if they want a shot at it. Even if BYU doesn’t get an at-large bid, there is a good chance that another team could run the conference tournament to snag the automatic bid. It’s happened the past two seasons, and the odds of it happening again are fairly high considering how well the conference is balanced. Look for the MWC to be beaming with pride come Selection Sunday.

Rebel Smell

It wasn’t long ago when UNLV seemed to always face problems both on and off the court. Luckily, Charlie Spoonhour looks like he has cleaned up the program and its reputation is back on the rise. Thus, when the Rebels traveled to Columbia on Sunday to face Missouri, there was probably a bit of sympathy for the beleaguered Tigers. However, that sympathy wouldn’t last long as Quin Snyder’s team took out their frustrations on the overmatched Rebels, 94-60.

In the first half, Missouri played the way most people thought they would all season long. Arthur Johnson had an easy time against the smaller, weaker Rebel frontcourt. Meanwhile, the Tigers were lighting it up from outside, hitting 13 of 25 three point attempts. Freshmen Thomas Gardner hit 4 of 5 threes, on his way to a career high 20 points. The Rebels looked scared all game long, hitting only 38 percent from the field and committing 22 turnovers. Wow, can you imagine how bad this loss could have been if Missouri was actually a good team?

Monday’s Results

Preseason favorite BYU hasn’t played up to their billing this season. With them staring at a losing conference record, the Cougars needed to turn things around quickly or their impressive win against Oklahoma State earlier in the season will be irrelevant come March. On Big Monday, BYU faced San Diego State, another team who is struggling in league play. Both teams realized the importance of this game and they both played hard for the first 20 minutes. BYU got the last basket of the half to take a 30-29 lead.

BYU quickly jumped out in the second half to take a 10 point lead, one they maintained for most of the half. However, SDSU made a late run to cut the lead to two points with five minutes remaining. With less than a minute left, the Aztecs’ Brandon Heath, who hadn’t hit a basket all night, finally got one to go and put them up by two points. Mark Bigelow answered on the other end to tie it. Steve Fisher decided not to call a timeout to run a final play and let Heath try to win it one-on-one. Fisher’s decision was a poor one, as Heath couldn’t shake Luiz Lemes and missed a tough shot. The Cougars dominated the overtime period, outscoring the Aztecs 16-2 in their 83-69 win. Freshman Garner Meads scored a career high 19 points, while four other Cougars reached double figures. Surprisingly, Rafael Araujo wasn’t one of them, which is a good sign as it shows the team is finding new ways to win.

Meanwhile, Utah has started to play up to their potential, despite losing head Rick Majerus. The Utes hosted UNLV, the league’s highest scoring team. Utah has been plagued all season with slow starts, but that wouldn’t happen in this game as they jumped on the athletic Rebels to take a 36-30 halftime lead. In the second half, the Utes stepped up the defensive pressure and held the Rebs scoreless for over five minutes to blow the game open. Utah held UNLV to its lowest point total of the season in their 70-56 win. Though they only committed 7 turnovers for the game, the Rebels got pounded on the boards by the bigger Utes, 46-21. Freshman Andrew Bogut corralled 13 of them, to go along with his 14 points.

Air Force, the league’s surprise team thus far, took on in-state rival Colorado State in Clune Arena. As league leaders, the Falcons are quickly realizing that teams are gunning for them, which is something new for this program. On this night, the Rams gave them all they could handle even though it didn’t look that way in the first stanza. Air Force clamped down on the Rams to take a 30-17 lead at the half. However, CSU started playing some defense of their own and got back into the game, cutting the Falcons’ lead to just four. However, Nick Welch hit six free throws in the final minute to preserve the win, 52-44. Welch and guard Tim Keller combined to score 33 of the Academy’s 52 points. Freddy Robinson led the Rams with 15 points, but got little offensive help as no other teammate reached double figures.

Lastly, Wyoming had yet to win a road game this season, and it would take a valiant effort to do so in the Pit against an up-n-coming New Mexico team. The Cowboys would have to stop Danny Granger, who put up 30 points on them in Laramie a few weeks ago. Unfortunately for the Pokes and their fans, it was deja vu all over again as Granger matched his point total from the first contest with another 30 point performance in the Lobos 87-75 win. Both teams shot 50 percent for the game, but New Mexico got to the line 31 times, sinking 29 of them. The win moved UNM to 4-4 in the conference, which matches their win total from last season.

Valentine’s Day Results

New Mexico had to leave the comforts of the Pit to face Air Force, a team who beat them by 26 in Albuquerque. That drubbing was fresh in their minds, as they ran out to a 11-2 lead early on to put the Falcons in a hole. The Academy, who isn’t used to falling behind at home, showed good poise to cut the lead to one at halftime, 27-26. The second half was tight throughout with the lead exchanging hands seven times. With the scored tied, the Falcons’ Antoine Hood hit one of two free throws to take a 51-50 lead. New Mexico’s Danny Granger had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but his three point attempt failed to hit its mark. Coach Ritchie McKay couldn’t ask for a better effort from his club, but unfortunately this tough loss didn’t halt his team’s 23 game road losing streak. The win was crucial for Air Force to maintain its grasp on first place, especially with road games at Utah and BYU coming up.

The Falcons’ win meant Utah needed to come up big at Colorado State to stay a game back. The Rams were happy to be back home, where they had only lost twice this season. The Utes were not intimidated by the raucous crowd as they sprinted to a 34-26 halftime lead. CSU got to within 5 early in the second half, but Utah went on a 9-0 run to stretch the lead, one they wouldn’t relinquish. The Utes, who have been plagued by turnover issues all season long, committed only eight in their 80-70 victory. Much maligned point guard Tim Drisdom had his best game of the season with 24 points, 4 assists and only one turnover. Running mate Nick Jacobson added 22, while the rest of the Utes held Colorado State to only 39 percent shooting for the game.

In another big road test, BYU traveled to Wyoming to face a fading Cowboy squad. The Cougs started off well and led by as much as 10 points in the first half, but the Cowboys came back to score 10 straight to cut the lead to 30-27 before halftime. The second half was a series of runs by BYU, closely followed by Wyoming runs to always stay close. In the end, the Cougars got the final run to win 67-53. Mark Bigelow continued to shoot himself out of his early season slump by hitting for 21 points, including 4-7 from three point land. On the other side, the Pokes shot a horrible 2-21 from the three point arc.

This Week’s MWC Heat-Miser Award

Danny Granger, New Mexico

30 points, 9-13 FG shooting, 5 rebounds, 4 assists versus Wyoming

It’s a joy to watch this talented Lobo as he scores from all over the court. Well, unless you’re the opposing team. I’m sure the Cowboys don’t want to see him anymore.

This Week’s MWC Snow-Miser Award

Brandon Heath, San Diego State

3 points, 1-9 shooting, 4 fouls versus BYU

The freshman has played exceptional all season long, but couldn’t hit anything against the Cougars. He shouldn’t have been the one taking the final shot in this game.

     

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