Have You Heard? MWC Women's Basketball March 2 Edition
Better Late Than Never
BYU (22-7, 14-1) clinched a share of the regular-season league title in Saturday's 56-52 win over San Diego State, but not without being pushed to the brink.
The Cougars, who trailed 34-24 at the half, found themselves staring at a 44-28 deficit after Aztecs guard Coco Davis hit the second of two free throws with 1:52 gone in the second half.
BYU turned up the defensive pressure, however, ultimately scoring 10 points off 13 second-half turnovers by SDSU. The Cougars, whose only advantage in the game had come at 2-0 at the 19:25 mark of the first half, completed the comeback when Haley Hall hit a three-pointer with 1:32 left to give the hosts a 54-52 lead.
"This team really believes in itself," said coach Jeff Judkins. "When things aren't going their way, they really believe they can stick together and inch their way back. Every timeout we had, we just kept encouraging them, reminding them that we weren't going to get it all back with one shot.
"It's been a long time since we'd found ourselves in that kind of position, but our players believed they could win the game. They just kept working and refused to get discouraged. Earlier in the year, we might have let that kind of situation bother us, but they just inched their way back. I was really proud of them."
The Cougars wrapped up sole possession of the 2011 Mountain West Conference regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the Conoco MWC Women's Basketball Championship Tournament next week in Las Vegas with a 65-49 win over New Mexico on Tuesday night.
Up and Coming
When Utah (6-8, 13-15) stages its senior night on Wednesday prior to tipoff against Colorado State, the list of honorees won't be lengthy.
Of the 14 players currently on the roster, forward Michelle Harrison and guard Hennasea Tokumura are the lone seniors, leaving coach Anthony Levrets ample talent to work with in 2011-12. Eleven players are either sophomores or freshmen.
"We've had a lot of young kids who have had to play," said Levrets, whose roster next season will also be bolstered by the return of 6-foot-3 sophomore forward Taryn Wicijowski, the 2009-10 MWC Freshman of the Year who was lost for the season after suffering a knee injury in late November. "We're not where we want to be in terms of wins, but I think it bodes very well for the future. This is a talented young group. They've been very resilient. Every time I think they've finally been hit by that one crushing blow, because they're so young, they come to practice the next day as eager to learn as they were the first day of practice. That has really made this season a lot of fun."
Preparing for the Unknown
With three teams --- Colorado State, Utah and San Diego State --- tied for fourth place heading into action Wednesday night, Aztecs coach Beth Burns is currently facing the unknown heading into next week's MWC Tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Defending tournament champion SDSU (12-14, 6-8) hosts third-place Wyoming on Wednesday before closing out the regular season at Colorado State on Saturday. CSU visits Utah on Wednesday.
"I've never gone into a tournament week having no earthly idea how to practice relative to who you might potentially play," said Burns, whose team held a 16-point lead at first-place BYU on Saturday before falling 56-52. "Usually, when you say anything can happen, it's a bit of an exaggeration, but when you say anything can happen in this instance, you truly feel that way.
"The only thing I can say with any certainty is that we'll be playing either Colorado State, Utah, New Mexico, Air Force or UNLV. The positive you can take from that is that with the exception of our home game against BYU, we've been in every game. That said, I still think anybody can beat anybody in this league on any given night. If we can put a complete game together for 40 minutes and sustain it, I think we've got as good of a chance as anybody else."
When Air Force (8-19, 3-11) hosts New Mexico on Saturday in the regular-season finale for both teams, the Falcons will honor a player who can arguably lay claim to being the best in the program's history.
Guard Raimee Beck, the team's lone senior, will be playing her final game at Clune Arena. She will exit as the program's all-time leader during the Division I era in scoring average, free-throw percentage, steals, field goals attempted, three-point field goals made, three-point field goals attempted and points in a season. Saturday's game will also mark her 116th career start. The previous record was 107, set by 2007 graduate Alicia Steele.
Prior to the Falcons ending a 40-game conference losing streak against San Diego State on Jan. 19, Beck had been the team's only player to have ever won a game against an MWC opponent.
"She's meant so much to the program, both on and off the court," said first-year coach Andrea Williams. "It's been great having her as a senior to serve as the connection between the team and a new staff. Even though we brought in a new style and a new tempo, it was easy for her to make the transition. We just want to be able to send her out with some great wins and some great memories for a kid that has endured these last four years. I've thoroughly enjoyed the one year I've been with her."
A Freshman No More
Colorado State faces its most crucial two-game stretch of the season this week when it visits Utah on Wednesday before hosting San Diego State in the regular-season finale on Saturday. The Rams (13-14, 6-8), who beat both teams during the first round of league play, are currently tied for fourth place with the Utes and Aztecs.
Yet if CSU holds a trump card, it may be 6-foot-2 freshman forward Sam Martin, who after being limited by a knee injury during her senior year at Chaparral High in Parker, Colo., last year, is currently ranked in the top 15 in seven statistical categories in the MWC.
After turning in her best performance against a conference opponent this season by scoring 21 points in Saturday's 70-49 win over Air Force, Martin ranks as the second-leading scorer (12.6 ppg) among MWC freshmen. Overall, she ranks 11th in the league in rebounds (6.4 rpg), second in field-goal percentage (56.6), fifth in free-throw percentage and sixth in blocked shots (1.3). She has shot 50 percent or better in 10 of 12 games against conference opponents.
"She's far exceeded what I thought she would do, not that I didn't think she was a very capable player, but you're anxious to see what any player will do coming back from a knee injury," said coach Kristen Holt. "She's had a lot of added pressure, especially from the standpoint that there were really no other post players on our team during the majority of conference play. She's had to play a lot of minutes and she's had to learn on the run. Her ceiling is very high. I think she already has the best post presence of any player on our team."
Long Range Bombers
In TCU's 84-71 win at New Mexico (10-17, 4-11) on Saturday, the teams tied a MWC record by combining for 26 three-point baskets.
The Frogs (20-9, 12-3) were 12-of-21 beyond the arc (57.1 percent), the ninth-best three-point shooting performance in school history. Guards Emily Carter and Helena Sverrisdottir combined to go 8-for-13 from three-point range, helping to counter a New Mexico performance highlighted by five three-pointers apiece from Lauren Taylor and Megan Toben. The Lobos connected on a season-high 14 three-pointers on 37 attempts.
The difference came In the second half, however, when TCU shot an overall percentage of 66.7 percent.
"In all the games I've ever been a part of at The Pit, that second half was the best shooting performance I've ever seen," said New Mexico coach Don Flanagan, who is in his 16th season. "They shot the lights out, and not just their premiere players, but kids who came in and played 10-12 minutes.
"We just couldn't stop them, but I wasn't unhappy with the way we played except for late in the game. We competed. But it's tough to win when a team shoots 67 percent."
The Final Chapter
Wyoming (21-6, 11-3), which has thrived this season under the senior leadership of guards Aubrey Vandiver and Randi Richardson and forwards Hillary Carlson and Jade Kennedy, will bid farewell to all four when the Cowgirls host BYU in their final regular-season home game on Saturday.
Together as a complete group the past two seasons, the quartet has helped lead Wyoming to a mark of 109-48, the 2007 WNIT championship, an NCAA appearance in 2008 and a berth in the 2010 WNIT Tournament. Vandiver, a fifth-year player for the Cowgirls, sat out the 2008-09 season with an illness and was an integral part of the 2007 WNIT championship team as a freshman. Richardson sat out the 2007-08 season after transferring to Wyoming from the University of San Francisco.
"The time goes by very quickly," said coach Joe Legerski. "I can remember when Aubrey and Hillary and Jade came in as freshmen. It seems like you have so much time on your side, and then all of the sudden it's Senior Day.
"What this group has accomplished, with the number of wins, the number of postseason appearances, they're definitely going to go down as being among the best in the history of the University of Wyoming."
Nothing Like Home Cookin'
While UNLV (10-19, 3-12) has advanced past the second round only once under the current format of the MWC Tournament, coach Kathy Olivier is hoping for a reversal of fortune when the event kicks off for the fifth straight year next week at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
The Lady Rebels gained the semifinals in 2009 before falling to runner-up San Diego State.
"The Mountain West Tournament is really electric," said Olivier, a former UNLV All-American who spent 15 seasons as the head coach at UCLA before returning to her alma mater in 2008. "I'm definitely convinced that anyone can win it. BYU is probably the favorite just because they're very deep and shoot the ball extremely well. But (defending tournament champion) San Diego State probably has the two best post players (Paris Johnson and Jessika Bradley) in the league and they're starting to play well as of late. But there's no doubt in my mind this year that anyone could win it."