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WAC Semifinals Recap

March 13, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Western Athletic Semifinals Recap

Recap by Steve Sheridan

No. 1 Nevada 67, No. 4 Rice 59
For the Nevada Wolf Pack, Kirk Snyder is the one constant offensive force. But unlike Thursday night’s game, some other Wolf Pack members were able to step up to help the top seed avenge its last loss with a 67-59 win over Rice and advance to the WAC title game for the second time in two years.

The league’s leading scored notched 20 points, but was helped out by three other Wolf Pack players in double figures, led by Kevinn Pinkney with 12 points and 11 rebounds and Jermaine Washington with 12 points and eight boards. The Owls were able to stay close, however, but they were never able to take the lead from Nevada, thanks to Snyder’s 14 second half points – including eight free throws – which helped his team stay in front. Nevada was able to take control of the game due to its domination both on the glass and from the free throw line, as the Wolf Pack amassed nine more rebounds than the Owls and, more importantly, took 13 more free throws than Rice, making 20 of them. Rice coach Willis Wilson was on the referees all evening long, as Nevada (and especially Snyder) was able to get to the charity stripe much more than their fourth-ranked opponents.

Jason McKrieth scored 20 points to pace the Rice attack, while the team’s leading scorer Michael Harris added 14, but Harris battled foul trouble all night and fouled out with 6:52 remaining in the game, a huge blow to the Owls’ chances. The Owl bench also contributed only eight points to the team’s total, putting much of the load on the five starters. The starters managed to perform well, but in the end the starting five were unable to carry the team over a well-balanced and unpredictable Nevada squad.

No. 2 UTEP 83, No. 3 Boise State 75
Five Miners reached double figures for UTEP as set up a championship battle with top-seeded Nevada by taking down Boise State, 83-75, the first win for UTEP against the Broncos in three tries this season.

Omar Thomas again led the Miners with 21 points off the bench, while four of the five UTEP starters also scored 10 or more points to keep the team ahead of the pesky Broncos and keep its incredible season alive.

Although behind for most of the game, Boise State was able to get to within 66-63 with four minutes left on a three-pointer from Coby Karl (whose dad, former Milwaukee Bucks head coach George Karl, was in attendance), but the Miners were able to hit six free throws while the Broncos suddenly went cold from the floor. As in the Nevada game, free throws were very important to the winning team, as UTEP hit 14-of-15 free throws in the game’s waning minutes as Boise State desperately tried to get itself back in the game. On the evening, the Miners hit 28-of-36 free throw attempts, compared to just 15-of-22 shooting for the Broncos. The constant fouling hurt Boise State on the offensive end as well, as both Karl and Eric Lane, who both had 12 points on the game, fouled out late in trying to keep their team alive.

Bryan Defares scored 16 points to top the score sheet for the Broncos, but the miraculous season of UTEP continued all the way to the title game.

The Miners reached the WAC final for the first time since 1993, as the team continues to break out of the shadow of last season’s team, which won only six games all last year. The turnaround is the biggest in school history and one of the greatest in conference history, and the Cinderella season with write one more chapter Saturday night.

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