LEFT COAST LAYUPS (1/23/2013): UTAH STATE’S HIGH HOPES IN DANGER
By Raphielle Johnson
Just over a week ago Stew Morrill’s Utah State Aggies had the look of a team poised to contend for another WAC title, having won 13 straight games since losing to Saint Mary’s in their second game of the season.
What a difference a week makes.
The Aggies’ two road losses pale in comparison to the fact that they will be without two of their top three scorers for quite some time, with leading scorer Preston Medlin ruled out 6-8 weeks with a fractured wrist and forward Kyisean Reed done for the year with a torn ACL. In losses at New Mexico State and Denver last week the Aggies averaged 54.0 points per game, well below their season average of 70.4 points per game.
Utah State also averaged 14.5 turnovers per game, which is two more than their season average (12.5). In the loss at New Mexico State each team turned the ball over 14 times, with Utah State’s 39% shooting proving to be the difference. But the turnovers proved to be far more problematic in their loss at Denver, as the Pioneers turned the ball over just three times to USU’s 15 and tallied 17 points off turnovers.
Without Medlin and Reed the margin for error becomes minuscule for Utah State, with Jarred Shaw being their leading scorer (12.4 ppg). Players such as Spencer Butterfield and Marcel Davis, both of whom struggled in the two road defeats (combined scoring average: 9.5 ppg on 6-of-24 shooting from the field), will need to step up if Utah State is to entertain any thoughts of hanging around in a race that’s currently being led by 7-0 Louisiana Tech with Denver a game behind in the loss column.
As difficult as it is to rule out a Morrill-coached team given the program’s success during his tenure, this mountain may be a bit too steep for Utah State to climb.
“First and foremost is our concern for Kyisean and Preston. This is as tough as it gets and we hurt for them first and our team second,” Morrill said in the school release. “We expect our players to step up and compete, as we have a lot of season left.”
Player of the Week: Denver guard Brett Olson
In wins over San Jose State and Utah State the sophomore averaged 16.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. With the Pioneers boasting Royce O’Neale and Chris Udofia in the front court, if Olson can continue on this run Denver is capable of winning the WAC title.
Schedule (Wednesday – Saturday)
11 PM Denver at New Mexico State (ESPNU)
9:05 PM UT-Arlington at Utah State (ESPN3)
10 PM Louisiana Tech at San Jose State
10 PM UTSA at Seattle (ROOT)
10:05 PM Texas State at Idaho
9:05 PM Louisiana Tech at Utah State (ESPN3)
10 PM UT-Arlington at San Jose State
10 PM Texas State at Seattle
10:05 PM UTSA at Idaho
Players of the Week: North Dakota guard Troy Huff and Northern Colorado guard Tate Unruh
Both Huff and Unruh led their respective teams to 2-0 weeks, hence the sharing of the conference’s weekly honor. In wins over Portland State at Eastern Washington Huff averaged 21.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game. Unruh averaged 20.0 points and shot 66.7% from beyond the arc in wins over Eastern Washington and Portland State.
The first showdown is on the horizon: The day (or one of possibly three) that fans of Montana and Weber State have been anticipating is right around the corner, as the preseason favorites will meet for the first time this season on Saturday. The home team won all three games last season, with Wayne Tinkle’s Grizzlies picking up two of those victories with the second coming in the Big Sky tournament final. Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar return for Montana with the former getting better by the game after missing much of the non-conference slate with a broken foot.
But Weber State has been just as good in getting to 8-0 in conference play, and their balanced attack led by guards Scott Bamforth and Davion Berry and big man Kyle Tresnak is the Big Sky’s highest scoring offense. With these two teams being so far ahead of the rest of the league their two meetings will ultimately determine who gets to host the conference tournament.
Schedule (Thursday – Saturday; all games on Big Sky TV unless noted otherwise)
8:35 PM Northern Colorado at Northern Arizona
9 PM Idaho State at Montana
9:05 PM Weber State at Montana State
9:05 PM Portland State at Southern Utah
10:05 PM North Dakota at Sacramento State
4:05 PM North Dakota at Northern Arizona
9:05 PM Idaho State at Montana State
9:05 PM Weber State at Montana
9:05 PM Eastern Washington at Southern Utah
10:05 PM Northern Colorado at Sacramento State
Player of the Week: UC Davis guard Corey Hawkins
Easy choice here, as Hawkins put forth a performance for the ages in the Aggies’ 93-82 win at Hawai’i late Saturday. Hawkins shot 8-of-9 from three and 10-of-14 from the field in scoring a school-record 40 points while also grabbing 12 rebounds. In the 2-0 week for UC Davis he averaged 28.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game.
Matadors continue to struggle: With the expansion of the conference to ten teams (Hawai’i) two Big West programs won’t qualify for the conference tournament. And with that in mind things aren’t looking too good for Bobby Braswell’s Cal State Northridge team, which dropped to 0-7 in conference play with a pair of losses last week. At 0-7 the Matadors are four games back in the race for that final tournament slot, and a lot has been placed on the plates of sophomores Stephan Hicks (17.0 ppg) and Stephen Maxwel (14.1 ppg).
Scoring hasn’t been the problem for Northridge but rather the fact that they’re struggling defensively. Currently the Matadors rank 9th in the conference in field goal percentage defense and 7th in three-point percentage defense. Games at UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly give Northridge the opportunity to close the gap but if they don’t improve defensively they’ll continue to struggle.
Schedule (Thursday – Saturday; all games available on Big West website unless noted otherwise)
10 PM Hawai’i at Cal Poly
10 PM UC Riverside at Pacific
10 PM Cal State Fullerton at UC Davis
10 PM Cal State Northridge at UC Santa Barbara
7 PM UC Irvine at Long Beach State
10 PM Cal State Northridge at Cal Poly
10 PM Cal State Fullerton at Pacific
10 PM UC Riverside at UC Davis
10 PM Hawai’i at UC Santa Barbara
Player of the Week: Colorado State guard Dorian Green
In wins over Air Force and UNLV the senior from Lawrence, Kansas averaged 14.5 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. In the win over UNLV Green scored 24 points to help lead the Rams to the 66-61 victory.
National rankings don’t match conference RPI in “respect”: For much of the season the Mountain West has bounced between second and third in the conference RPI rankings. But after last week’s results just one team, New Mexico, is in the national polls. With the top of the conference being as strong as it has been some coaches feel as if the Mountain West isn’t being rewarded for its balance as opposed to other leagues.
“I’m amazed with the rankings,” Alford said in the Albuquerque Journal. “Just looking at the rankings and we only have one team ranked. To be the third best league in the country and only have one ranked team is bothersome, it really is.” Hopefully for the conference this changes, but given how tight many of the Mountain West games have been this could be a recurring theme for the remainder of the regular season.
Schedule (Wednesday – Saturday)
8 PM Fresno State at Boise State
8 PM Colorado State at No. 15 New Mexico (CBSSN)
9 PM New Orleans at Air Force
10 PM San Diego State at Nevada (CBSSN)
9 PM Wyoming at UNLV (CBSSN)
4 PM No. 15 New Mexico at San Diego State (NBCSN)
4 PM Boise State at Nevada
10 PM Colorado State at Fresno State
10 PM Air Force at Wyoming (ROOT)
Player of the Week: Arizona guard Mark Lyons
In the Wildcats’ 71-54 win at Arizona State on Saturday the senior scored a game-high 24 points while also tallying three rebounds, three assists and three steals. 15 of Lyons’ 24 points were scored in the second half.
Oregon takes over the driver’s seat: Dana Altman’s Ducks may only be a game ahead of UCLA, Arizona and Washington in the loss column but they have to be considered the favorites right now. Why? You can thank the unbalanced schedules in addition to Oregon’s play of late. Oregon won’t have to play either Arizona or UCLA again this season, and with wins over both that’s two head-to-head tiebreakers in their favor.
But while Oregon’s schedule may be unbalanced their offense has been anything but, with five players averaging between 10.3 and 11.9 points per game. The sixth player is Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi, who leads the team in rebounding with an average of 9.6 caroms per game. Given the way that Oregon executes the fact that they don’t have a “star” being discussed along the lines of some of the players at Arizona and UCLA means little. The Ducks are for real.
Schedule (Wednesday – Sunday)
9:30 PM Washington State at No. 16 Oregon (P12N)
11:30 PM Washington at Oregon State (P12N)
8:30 PM California at Utah (P12N)
9 PM UCLA at No. 6 Arizona (ESPN2)
10 PM Stanford at Colorado (ESPNU)
10:30 PM USC at Arizona State (P12N)
4 PM UCLA at Arizona State (FSN)
5 PM Washington State at Oregon State (P12N)
7 PM USC at No. 6 Arizona (ESPNU)
7 PM Washington at No. 16 Oregon (P12N)
3:30 PM California at Colorado (FSN)
9 PM Stanford at Utah (P12N)
Player of the Week: Santa Clara guard Kevin Foster
Foster won his second Player of the Week award this season after leading the Broncos to a pair of victories. Foster, who is averaging 20.2 points per game this season, averaged 27.5 points and shot 62.5% from the field in wins over San Francisco and Pepperdine.
Gonzaga returns to conference play: Mark Few’s team suffered a tough defeat on Saturday night as a turnover led to Butler’s Roosevelt Jones hitting a runner as time expired to give Butler a 64-63 victory. But if there was any concern as to whether or not Gonzaga would suffer a hangover of sorts the schedule makers likely took care of that concern. With BYU visiting Spokane on Thursday night Gonzaga has to refocus immediately, and it’s safe to say that Gary Bell Jr. won’t go scoreless as he did on Saturday. The front court trio of Sam Dower, Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk combined to score 54 of Gonzaga’s 63 points in the loss at Butler, with Kevin Pangos finishing with just five points. Look for Gonzaga to take the floor with good energy with the goal of making it clear that they’re the team to beat in the WCC.
Schedule (Wednesday – Saturday)
10 PM Cal State Bakersfield at Santa Clara
9 PM Pepperdine at Loyola Marymount
10 PM San Francisco at Portland
11 PM BYU at No. 10 Gonzaga (ESPN2)
11 PM San Diego at Saint Mary’s
4 PM Santa Clara at San Diego
6:30 PM Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s
8 PM San Francisco at No. 10 Gonzaga (ROOT)
10:30 PM BYU at Portland (ESPNU)
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