March 2011 Archives
MWC Placed Two Teams in Sweet 16 for First Time in Same Season
In the end, San Diego State's men's basketball team ran out of minutes.
It will not soon run out of memories.
Riding the crest of a wave that swelled to dizzying heights and swept thousands of fans along with it, the Aztecs, already in uncharted waters, furled their sail on Thursday.
After winning its first Division I NCAA Tournament game in program history and still standing as one of the top 16 teams in the nation, No. 2 seed San Diego State fell 74-67 to No. 3 seed UConn in the West Regional semifinals at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
Undone by Huskies All-American guard Kemba Walker (36 points), struggles at the foul line and a pair of technical fouls that resulted in four UConn free throws, the Aztecs' magic carpet ride skidded to a stop 90 miles removed from a city that came to embrace every bounce of the ball.
"When your season comes to a screeching halt, like it will for every team with the exception of one, it hurts," said coach Steve Fisher. "It should hurt, regardless of when, where and how. For our team this year, for what they've accomplished, it hurts exponentially more.
"I could not be more proud of how we competed, how hard we played, and unfortunately we came up a bit short. It wasn't for lack of effort, it wasn't for lack of trying, but we came up short. That's the nature of this game."
No team in the country entered play on Thursday with more wins (34) or fewer losses (2) than the Aztecs, who charged into the Sweet 16 on the heels of beating Northern Colorado and Temple in second- and third-round games a week earlier in Tucson.
Surviving a 19-5 UConn run at the end of the first half in which it went scoreless over the final 3:20, SDSU clawed its way back, outscoring the Huskies (29-9) 15-9 over the first 4:55 of the second half. The Aztecs took a 43-42 lead on the second of two free throws by D.J. Gay (team-high 16 points) with 13:05 to play, and took its biggest of the final 20 minutes at 53-49 when Billy White scored on a layup with 9:49 left.
But Walker, a National Player of the Year finalist who posted his 11th 30-point game of the season, was simply unstoppable down the stretch, scoring 22 points in the second half.
Walker, who entered the contest averaging 23.6 points per game, finished 12-for-25 from the field, including a 4-for-8 performance from 3-point range. He single-handedly bested the Aztecs at the foul line, going 8-for-10. SDSU was 6-for-13 from the free-throw line, while UConn was 12-for-16.
"It hurts," said Gay, who scored all 16 of his points in the second half and concluded his career as one of three starting seniors (Billy White and Malcolm Thomas). "We all became a family, and for this to be our last game, it really does hurt. We had a lot of success this year, a lot of accomplishments, but we wanted it all."
The Aztecs fell to 0-13 all-time against teams from the Big East and suffered their first loss in nine neutral-site games this season.
UConn's 74 points were the fourth-highest total SDSU has allowed this season. The Aztecs had just one blocked shot, matching a season-low set against Gonzaga on Nov. 16.
Kemba Walker's 36 points were the most by any SDSU opponent in their 20 NCAA Division I postseason games (10 NCAA, 10 NIT), and the second-most by an Aztec foe this year behind Jimmer Fredette's 43 on Jan. 26.
D. J. Gay finished in double figures for the 19th time this season and for the 56th time in his career.
Malcolm Thomas compiled the most points (13) and rebounds (8) in his four career NCAA Tournament games.
Sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard (12 points) posted his 15th straight game in double-figures. He finished the year with 557 points, sixth-most in a single-season in school history. His 380 rebounds were the second-most and highest single-season total in the Aztecs' Division I era (since 1970). Leonard moved into seventh place all-time on SDSU's career rebounding list with 716.
Billy White (14 points) finished in double figures for the seventh straight game. It was the 62nd time White tallied double digits in his career.
BYU comes up short in OT
Jimmer Fredette scored 32 points on 11-for-29 shooting, but it wasn't enough to overcome No. 2 seed Florida as the No. 3 seed Cougars fell 83-74 in overtime in a Southeast Regional semifinal game on Thursday at the Superdome in New Orleans.
BYU, which finished 32-5 after sharing the MWC regular-season title with San Diego State, posted its winningest season in school history. It was the first Sweet 16 appearance in 30 years for the Cougars, who along with SDSU gave the MWC two teams in the regional semifinals in the same season for the first time in the league's 12-year history.
Florida (29-7), which had a chance to win the game in regulation, outscored BYU 15-6 in the overtime period. The Gators shot 47.7 percent for the game, while the typically sharp-shooting Cougars shot 35.2 percent overall and 27.0 percent from 3-point range (10-for-37).
The game was tied 36-36 at the half and 68-68 at the end of regulation.
"There's so many goals that you set as a team before the season starts, and probably your biggest goal is to qualify for the NCAA Tournament and then advance in that tournament," said coach Dave Rose. "We were able to advance twice and came pretty close to advancing the third time. That will probably feel better later, because it's tough. I told the guys that the toughest thing for us as coaches is that we don't get a chance to bounce back from this. That seems to be a real trademark of our guys and our program is that we have a chance to bounce back after we get beat, and this time we don't have that chance."
Fredette, the nation's leading scorer, finished with more than 30 points for the 24th time in his career. No other player scored in double figures for BYU.
"You know, it's definitely tough," said Fredette, who battled a sore calf and cut his chin during the game. "It's tough that it's over; it hasn't really sunk in yet that it's fully over right now. But I've had a great time.
"This team has been extremely tough, resilient, and we've fought through a lot of things. And you know, a lot of people didn't think we could even make it this far. We believed in ourselves, and we thought that we could do it. A possession away to get into the Elite Eight, we won the Mountain West Conference Championship this regular season. We've had a great year and I love going to battle with these guys every single night. Every day they've been great friends to me and I've enjoyed every single minute of it."
Said senior guard Jackson Emery: "It's been an incredible journey. I was here in Coach Rose's first year we came together. One thing we wanted to do with this program is build it up and every year get better. I feel like every year we've gotten better. We've raised expectations. And we've had a lot of doubt on the outside, but all that matters is what we believe as a team. I thought we accomplished what we wanted to and beyond. I'm proud to say we had a great season, and I'm excited to move on, and I'm excited to see BYU next year because I know they'll continue to work hard and become better."
Florida and BYU played an overtime contest in the NCAA for the second straight year. BYU defeated Florida 99-92 in double overtime in the first round of the 2010 tournament. In that game, Kenny Boynton, who had 17 points on Thursday, led the Gators with 27 points, while Jimmer Fredette had 37 to lead BYU.
The two teams combined to set an NCAA Tournament single-game record with 71 attempted three-pointers. The previous record of 70 was held by Drake and Western Kentucky in 2008.
This was BYU's 26th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars have a record of 14-29 in NCAA Tournament games. Following the loss, BYU's record against Florida is now 3-1, 1-1 in NCAA Tournament contests.
We Meet Again
BYU will be meeting Florida in the NCAA Tournament when the No. 3 seed Cougars (32-4) square off against the No. 2 seed Gators (28-7) in a Southeast Region Sweet 16 game at the Superdome in New Orleans on Thursday (6:27 p.m. CT, TBS).
Last year, behind 37 points from National Player of the Year candidate Jimmer Fredette, BYU beat Florida 99-92 in double overtime in a first-round game in Oklahoma City.
"I think both teams have improved," said Cougars coach Dave Rose. "I think they're more comfortable in how they're going to close out games. That's the thing that impresses me the most about Florida is their ability late in games to get good shots from the players that are capable of making their shots. It's not like they're trying to just hope their way into a basket to win.
"And then defensively I think that they're a lot more engaged in their defensive game plan as a group. So they're not looking for as many individual plays to try to finish out games."
Away From the Madding Crowd
Fredette's celebrity as a National Player of the Year candidate this season has had the potential to cause strain among the ranks but has never materialized, Rose said.
"I haven't ever felt like I needed to settle him down because I don't think he's ever got to a point where he's become, quote, too full of himself. I mean, he is a very humble, approachable guy.
"We've had a lot of conversations throughout the year about how we're going to manage it and how he feels, and if it becomes overwhelming to him then he needs to tell me so that I can kind of manage it better, because we had kind of a routine that we would get in, and then that routine got stretched a little bit because of some more national requests that he had.
"My conversations with him were, 'Are you fine? Is that too much? If you don't want to do it, you don't have to.' He's been great all year. There's been a couple times when on a Monday morning he said, 'Coach, I need a break,' and we'd have to kind of shut things down for the week and just have him do the obligations that our team has locally. It's all been kind of managed between the two of us.
"I'm telling you, he's as humble and approachable and as likable as a person today as he was the first day he stepped on campus."
Gators in Waiting
Florida has all five starters back from last year's team that fell to BYU 99-92 in double overtime in the first round. The Salt Lake Tribune's Jay Drew says the Cougars can expect to get the Gators' best shot.
The Men of the Hour
Florida's Kenny Boynton says the sprained ankle he suffered last week against UCLA is a distant memory, but now he has to guard the leading scorer in the nation: Jimmer Fredette.
Walker Presents Formidable Challenge
Jimmer Fredette isn't the only one left in the tournament being considered for National Player of the Year honors. UConn senior guard Kemba Walker, an All-Big East first-team selection who scored 130 points in five games during the Huskies' championship run in the conference tournament, enters Thursday's game against San Diego State averaging 23.6 points.
"He scores 35-40 percent of their points and takes about that many of their shots, so we better have a plan in terms of what we want to try to do," said Aztecs coach Steve Fisher. "You can't foul him. He's a deadly free-throw shooter and I believe he's gotten 76 free throws in his last seven games. You've got to keep him off the line. He knows how to draw fouls.
"He's lightning quick with the ball. We've got to keep him on the outside, challenge his perimeter shot, minimize the number of threes and layups they get. It's easy to say, hard to do. He's not scoring 26, 28 points a game for nothing."
The Best-Laid Plan
After UConn coach Jim Calhoun dubbed San Diego State sophomore sensation Kawhi Leonard an NBA lottery pick, someone asked Leonard how he would guard himself.
"Try to contest my shots, play defense and hope that I miss."
If the battles weren't legendary, neither did they lack for ferocity, a description seldom applicable when the combatants are both 5-feet-9 and the objective is to prove that you tower over your opponent.
Yet such was the war waged between Richie Williams and D.J. Gay, the former always pushing, the latter pushing back, friends bent on driving each other to the breaking point while driving their team to heights it had never known.
"The battles they had were epic," said San Diego State assistant men's basketball coach Brian Dutcher. "They would go at each other so hard in practice that the games were almost a relief to them."
Williams, a point guard, joined the Aztecs as a San Diego County high school product in 2005 and graduated two years ago as the Mountain West Conference career leader in assists (479) and steals (246), marks which were eclipsed this season by New Mexico's Dairese Gary (564 assists) and BYU teammates Jimmer Fredette (currently 510 assists) and Jackson Emery (currently 247 steals).
Gay arrived at SDSU in 2007, a sharpshooting off-guard from Poly High in Sun Valley, Calif., who had ranked fifth in the state and 21st nationally in scoring (29.4 ppg) as a senior.
But when Williams' run was over at SDSU, many were of the opinion that the Aztecs had lost a key to the future, particularly when it came a year before the debuts of current standouts Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas and Chase Tapley. For four seasons, Williams had run the offense, directing traffic, distributing the ball, discerning soft spots in match-up zones.
Gay, meanwhile, had never played point guard, giving an even louder voice to the skeptics convinced that sky was falling. Gay heard the voices, read the stories ... and promptly assumed a role he had long coveted.
"The main thing was to just use it as motivation," Gay said. "I knew I was capable of playing point guard; I knew I could do it. Playing those two years with Richie had definitely prepared me.
"It was something that I wanted to do when I got to college. I wanted to play point guard. I knew that my opportunity would come. I just had to prepare myself for it."
A preparation period that has now spanned two seasons and brought him to a place where point guards often reign supreme --- the NCAA Tournament.
On Thursday, Gay and his No. 2 seed Aztecs (34-2) will square off against No. 3 seed UConn (28-9) in the West Region Sweet 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim (4:15 p.m. PT, CBS). It is Gay's turn, Gay's time, a chance to advance ever closer to hoops heaven, next week's Final Four in Houston.
"I knew when he first set foot on campus, watching Richie and him battle it out every day, that we were going to be OK when Richie was gone," said senior forward Billy White. "Coach (head coach Steve) Fisher knew it, too.
"He's the leader of this team. He's always picking us up whenever we're down. He's unselfish, and the one thing I know for sure is that I'm really glad he's our point guard."
Twice this season, the first-team All-MWC selection and team captain has won games in the final seconds. After shooting down Colorado State 56-54 with 1.9 seconds left on February 2, Gay reprised that performance in the conference tournament semifinals, sinking UNLV 74-72 when he hit a runner in the lane with 5.9 seconds to play.
One of 10 finalists for the 2011 Bob Cousy Award, Gay has played a team-high 1,267 of a possible 1,450 minutes this season, a feat made even more remarkable when one considers that his assist-to-turnover ratio (2.64) ranks 18th nationally. He also leads the team in assists (116) and three-point field goals (69).
"I've said repeatedly that D.J. Gay is our most important player, and I somewhat qualified it and probably made him mad by saying he's not our best player," Fisher said. "But he is our most important player. He plays with no fear, no agenda and couldn't care less if he shoots it."
Just like a true point guard.
San Diego State, BYU both advance to NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16
San Diego State assistant men's basketball coach Brian Dutcher turned to a well-wisher shortly after his team's double-overtime win over Temple on Saturday and offered the following assessment: "It wasn't poetry."
Poetry? Perhaps not. But it was certainly music to the ears of thousands of Aztecs fans who made their way to the University of Arizona's McKale Center.
Two days after winning its first Division I NCAA Tournament game, No. 2 seed San Diego State upped the ante, vaulting into next week's Sweet 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim by outlasting the No. 7 seed Owls 71-64. SDSU will face No. 3 seed UConn (29-9), which beat No. 6 seed Cincinnati 69-58 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
It was the Aztecs' first overtime game since an 88-86 loss to New Mexico on Feb. 9, 2010, and their first double-overtime game since falling to Colorado State on Jan. 24, 2004.
It was an endurance test, a nail-biting, grind-it-out grueling affair that left both teams sapped --- and one standing on the precipice of a potential Final Four berth.
"These are games that are hard," said San Diego State coach Steve Fisher. "They're hard for both sides. We ran off the floor all smiles and they ran off the floor with tears in their eyes. That's the nature of what we do."
The nature of what SDSU is doing at the moment is almost beyond comprehension. The Aztecs left the floor after 2 1/2 hours late Saturday afternoon with their 34th victory of the season, more than any team in the nation (Ohio State and Kansas, both of which play Sunday, have 33).
Keep in mind, this is coming from a program that during Fisher's first season in 1999-2000 finished 5-23 overall and was 0-14 in the Mountain West Conference. This from a program that until Thursday hadn't won an NCAA Tournament Division I game in its 90-year history. This from a program where only seven years ago fans stormed the court following a National Invitation Tournament win over UC Santa Barbara.
Today, it's a program that's going home for three days before traveling 90 miles to Anaheim for a shot to contend for a national title. When Fisher told his team to dream big this season, he must have been thinking about something in a XXXL.
"I don't think throwing around the word "destiny" is the thing to do just yet," said senior point guard D.J. Gay, who scored nine points and tied a career high with six rebounds after scoring a combined five points in the team's previous two games. "It's hard work paying off, the fruit of your labors. This is a team that has worked hard and prepared for this situation. And we're finally getting a chance to show the world what we're capable of."
The Aztecs (34-2) certainly showed it in the frantic final minute of the second overtime when senior forwards Billy White and Malcolm Thomas both swatted away Temple shot attempts, with Thomas' block on Owls standout forward Lavoy Allen likely being the play of the game. White finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds in posting his career-high third straight double-double.
It was the kind of game where Aztecs sophomore sensation Kawhi Leonard had more traveling calls (3) than points (2) in the first half, only to score 10 points, including 6-for-6 shooting from the foul line, in the two overtime periods and finish with 16.
It was the kind of game in which SDSU twice led by 11 points in the first half, only to find itself trailing by three when Owls guard Juan Fernandez hit a three-pointer to give the Owls a 57-54 lead with 36 seconds gone in the first overtime.
It was the kind of game that while perhaps not poetry, was another step toward the pinnacle of college basketball for a program whose dream is fast becoming reality TV.
"Unless you've been there in the trenches on a daily basis as a player or coach or a family member of a player or coach, you can't comprehend how stressful it is, how hard it is, how all-consuming it is," Fisher said. "And how gratifying it is when you win and how disappointing it is when you don't.
"There will be more games like this with other teams. The losers go home, and we went home last year (after a first-round loss to Tennessee) feeling that with a little bit of good fortune and a little better play we could have gone on. This year, we're going on, and it feels great to be in our shoes."
BYU Matches SDSU Stride for Stride
San Diego State wasn't the only Mountain West Conference team to advance to the Sweet 16 on Saturday as No. 3 seed BYU rolled to an 89-67 win over No. 11 seed Gonzaga in a third-round Southeast Region game at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
The victory advanced the Cougars into next week's Sweet 16 at the Superdome in New Orleans, where it will meet No. 2 seed Florida, a 73-65 winner over UCLA.
Not only is it BYU's first trip to the Sweet 16 in 30 years, it's also the first time the Mountain West Conference has sent two teams to the Sweet 16 in the same season in its 12-year history. BYU and San Diego State finished as regular-season co-champions in the MWC.
Once again, senior guard and national Player of the Year candidate Jimmer Fredette pulled the Cougars through, scoring 34 points on 11-for-23 shooting, including a 7-for-12 performance from three-point range. He was also 5-for-5 from the foul line.
With 4:39 left, the Cougars (32-4) led 82-59 against a Gonzaga team that on Thursday easily dispatched No. 6 seed and No. 18-ranked St, John's 86-71.
"For 40 minutes, it might have been as good as we've been all year," said BYU coach Dave Rose.
The Cougars shot .536 (15-of-28) from the field in the first half, including 9-of-17 from three-point range and held Gonzaga to 13-of-33 shooting (.39.4 percent) in the opening 20 minutes. Overall, BYU shot .525 (31-59) from the field, including 14-of-28 from three-point range.
A three-pointer at the 7:20 mark of the first half by Fredette was the 288th of his career and moved him into first place all-time on the MWC three-point field goal list. He now has 293 career three-pointers. Fredette is also now the all-time leading scorer in the state of Utah with 2,567 career points. He passed Keith Van Horn of Utah (1993-97) during the Gonzaga win. Van Horn had 2,542 career points.
"I'm just really pleased," Rose said. "I'm happy for our players. I think that we had to play our best game in this situation. Gonzaga (which had won 10 straight) was on a great streak. It was a game where we knew that we had to play together. We had to play with confidence. We had to play on attack."
Senior guard Jackson Emery had 16 points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals for BYU. Emery's third steal of the game made him the MWC all-time steals leader. Emery passed Richie Williams, who tallied 246 steals for San Diego State from 2005-09. Emery now has 247 career steals.
We Meet Again
Seventeen years ago, in his fifth season as head coach at the University of Pennsylvania, Fran Dunphy did something few coaches did at the time --- accept a road game at the University of Michigan, where the "Fab Five" was fading away but wrestling with the Wolverines was still a daunting task.
Dunphy's Quakers, however, were no pushover. Penn had gone 25-3 the previous season, won the Ivy League title and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
At Michigan, coach Steve Fisher's team had finished as the national runner-up two of the previous three seasons and opened the 1994-95 campaign ranked No. 16 in the country.
Dunphy and the Quakers prevailed 62-60, as former NBA player Jerome Allen, now the head coach at Penn, knocked down a short jumper in the closing seconds.
It is the only time Dunphy, now at Temple, and Fisher, now at San Diego State, have ever squared off as head coaches.
On Saturday, they will meet again, with Fisher's No. 2 seed Aztecs (33-2) facing Dunphy's No. 7 seed Owls (26-7) in the third round of the NCAA Tournament's West Region in Tucson.
"We had some really good players at that time," Dunphy said of Penn's trip to Ann Arbor in December of 1994. "We just happened to go in there and win. It was a great game for our program."
For Fisher and the Wolverines, not so much.
"I think the referees cost us that game," Fisher said with a laugh during Friday's press conferences at the University of Arizona's McKale Center. "I do remember that. I don't remember names, but he had guys that were lights out shooting the ball against us and they beat us in our building. I congratulated him, put my chin to my chest and walked out."
Fisher's Michigan teams beat Temple twice in the NCAA Tournament during his tenure, winning 73-66 in 1992 and 77-73 in 1993.
San Diego State and Temple have met just once, with the Aztecs winning 75-64 in a game played in San Diego in 1981. The winner of today's game will advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament next week at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
If San Diego State is to beat Temple, the Aztecs will have to contend with the Owls' legendary match-up zone.
Crafted by former coach John Chaney, a member of the College Basketball Hall of Fame, a match-up zone is a combination defense comprised of both man-to-man defense and zone, a tactic used to confuse offenses and one that dares teams to shoot over the top.
San Diego State has had 11 games this season in which it shot 25 percent or less from three-point range.
"Like I've said before, we're a team that can win in a variety of ways," said Aztecs senior point guard D.J. Gay. "We can win inside and we can win outside. We have players who can knock down shots and we have a very good inside presence.
"We're still going to try to attack inside; our bigs are very good passers. We're going to look for open gaps where we'll have the opportunity to take and make shots."
The Tale of the Tape
Look for Temple to utilize its size advantage against San Diego State at the guard spots, where the Owls feature Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez, both of whom are listed at 6-feet-4.
In comparison, the Aztecs offer 6-foot D.J. Gay and 6-foot-2 Chase Tapley.
"We just have to be aware of their size and trying to use it to their advantage," Gay said. "But playing against somebody bigger is something I've been doing all my life. So I think I'll be able to adjust well on Saturday."
Zooming in on the Zags
Gonzaga may be a No. 11 seed, but it hardly played the part in Thursday's second-round Southeast Region game at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
The Bulldogs, paced by a career-high 24 points from guard Marquise Carter, made short work of No. 7 seed and No. 18-ranked St. John's, winning 86-71.
Gonzaga (25-9), which will face No. 3 seed and No.10/11-ranked (AP/Coaches) BYU (31-4) in Saturday's third round, shot 58.3 percent against St. John's, including a 60.0 percent effort from three-point range. The Bulldogs dominated the Red Hawks on the glass, 43-20.
"That's why they're a tough cover," said BYU senior guard Jimmer Fredette. "They can stretch you out, have big guys on the inside that are tough to guard and can score inside. That's what makes them a very good team. That's something we have to be conscious of. Kind of a little bit like New Mexico in (the Mountain West Conference), because they have very good big guys that give us a tough time, but they also have guys that can really shoot the ball.
"We have to be conscious of that and try to get it out of the post as much as we can and get it out to shooters on the catch. We've been working on that. Hopefully we'll be able to execute it."
Said Cougars coach Dave Rose: "We've been through this before as far as playing teams that have great strength up front, great depth up front. So we'll kind of rely on those experiences to try to help us through this."
BYU senior guard and national Player of the Year candidate Jimmer Fredette has endured a season in which media have hounded him relentlessly and fans across the nation have flocked to watch him play, selling out arenas throughout the Mountain West Conference and elsewhere.
Through it all, Fredette has remained focused, leading the nation in scoring and taking the Cougars to the precipice of their first Sweet 16 berth in 30 years.
"I think the stuff off the court is what puts pressure on you on the court," said Fredette, who scored 32 points in Thursday's 74-66 second-round win over No. 14 seed Wofford. "Everybody on the outside --- either the media, people on the outside --- are telling you what you should be doing, expects you to do great things every single night.
"I try not to think about it. I know that the expectations are there, but I also have high expectations for myself and high expectations for our team. If you look at it that way, you're trying to do it for yourself. You're not trying to do it for anybody else outside of that. If you have that mentality, you don't think about the pressures of all the people, you think about it yourself. That's the approach I try to take."
The Next Step
The last time BYU won two games in the NCAA Tournament was in 1981 when the Cougars (as a No. 6 seed), defeated Princeton 60-51 before upsetting No. 3 seed UCLA 78-55. BYU went on to defeat No. 2 seed Notre Dame to advance to the Regional Finals before losing to No. 1 seed Virginia 74-60.
Saturday's contest will be the first meeting between BYU and Gonzaga, which has won 10 straight. The winner will advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament next week at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.
A Look Ahead
While No. 8 seed UNLV (24-9) concluded its season Friday night with a 73-62 loss to No. 9 seed Illinois in a second-round game in the NCAA Tournament's Southwest Region in Tulsa, Okla., all is not lost for the Rebels.
UNLV, which finished second in the Mountain West Conference during the regular season, returns the bulk of its starting lineup next season, including junior guard Oscar Bellfield, junior forward Chace Stanback and sophomore guard Anthony Marshall, who paced the Runnin' Rebels with 13 points against the Illini.
"The group back, most of them have been to two tournaments," said coach Lon Kruger, whose team was making its fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the past five years. "They've done a good job, and they want to go farther. They'll work hard, there is no question about that. It will be a great group to work with. They have great attitudes about working hard, they have great attitudes about wanting to go get better, and about the only good thing that can come from this is to learn from it.
"When you get whipped like this, hopefully it will motivate you in the spring and summer and fall. I have no doubt it will motivate this group."
- For his next trick, Kawhi Leonard will take his act to the University of Arizona's Hillenbrand Aquatic Center, performing a backward dive in the piked position with 2 1/2 somersaults, 2 1/2 twists and a reverse slam dunk.
Ridiculous? No more so than Leonard's sophomore year at San Diego State.
The Aztecs' forward continued his remarkable run on a record-setting season Thursday, leading the No. 2 seed Aztecs to a 68-50 win over No. 15 seed Northern Colorado in the second round of the NCAA West Region at the University of Arizona's McKale Center. It was SDSU's first win in an NCAA Tournament Division I game.
Leonard, a candidate for the Wooden and Naismith awards, honoring the nation's top player, finished with a team-high 21 points and secured 10 rebounds in posting his 23rd double-double of the season and the 40th of his career.
"Kawhi is a terrific player," said Aztecs coach Steve Fisher. "He's done for two years for San Diego State what everybody hoped he would do when he came in, much hyped and ballyhooed as (California's) Mr. Basketball. He's unafraid."
And, quite arguably, the best player in the program's 90-year history.
Leonard, whose team advanced to meet No. 7 Temple (26-7) in Saturday's third round, has now scored in double figures in a career-high 13 straight games. In two NCAA Tournament games (the Aztecs fell to Tennessee in the first round last year), he has two double-doubles. The leading rebounder in the Mountain West Conference, he has 145 rebounds (11.2 rpg) in his last 13 games.
Thursday's win marked Leonard's 10th 20-point game of the season. And lest one think his act doesn't play on the road, nine of those 10 20-point games have come away from San Diego State.
Leonard scored his team's first eight points against Northern Colorado as the Aztecs beat the Bears for the seventh time in eight meetings.
"I guess (Northern Colorado's) game plan was letting me shoot the three without closing me out," said Leonard, who hit two three-pointers in the first 1:38. "They weren't closing me out and there were no high hands at all. The shot was basically wide open."
Not terribly sound strategy against one of the premiere players in the country. Leonard hit 9-of-14 shots from the field (64.3 percent) and was 3-of-5 from three-point range.
In the recently-concluded MWC Tournament, won by San Diego State for the second straight year, Leonard scored 55 points and had 28 rebounds in three games.
"He stepped it up (Thursday) and gave us a spark to get others going," said Aztecs backup center Brian Carlwell.
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound Leonard, who connected on multiple three-point shots for the second straight game and seventh time this season, has scored in double figures in 32 career games. He has finished with double-figure rebound totals 56 times.
Yet he is more than simply a scorer/rebounder extraordinaire. Leonard also has multiple assists in 21 of his last 24 games.
"A year ago when we played Tennessee, they backed off him and dared him to shoot the ball," Fisher said. "And I believe he was 0-for-4 in the first half from three-point range. (But) he's a gym rat. He takes pride in being a great player.
"We talk about (his) big hands and his ability to rebound, but Kawhi Leonard is a player. He finds ways to make plays that you win with."
A Different Vantage Point
UNLV coach Lon Kruger will be taking a trip down memory lane when the No. 8 seed Runnin' Rebels (24-8) square off against No. 9 seed Illinois in Friday's second-round Southwest Region game in Tulsa, Okla. (6:20 CT).
Kruger spent four seasons as the head coach of the Illini from 1996-2000, compiling an overall mark of 81-48 and capturing the Big Ten regular-season title in 1998.
"Most of the guys on my team now probably don't even realize I coached at Illinois, but when their name popped up on (Selection) Sunday, it caught my attention," Kruger said. "I have a lot of good memories from my time there, winning a Big Ten championship... There are a lot of memories."
Kruger's Illinois teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament three times during his tenure.
Jimmer Keeps on Rolling
BYU National Player of the Year candidate Jimmer Fredette became the 19th player in Division I history to score 1,000 points in a season when he finished with 32 in Thursday's 74-66 win over No. 14 seed Wofford in a Midwest Region game at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Fredette, who currently has 1,002 points, has scored in double figures in 40 straight games for the No. 3 seed Cougars, who improved to 31-4. He also had seven assists in the game, eclipsing the 500 assists mark for his career.
Kyle Collinsworth had a career-high 11 rebounds for BYU, which broke the school record for wins in a season. The Cougars had 30 last year.
Different Time, Different Team
With a win in Saturday's third round vs. Gonzaga (5:45 p.m. MT, CBS), BYU would make its first Sweet 16 appearance in 30 years. The Cougars were ousted last year in the second round (now known as the third round).
"It was a little different in the locker room," said Cougars coach Dave Rose. "I thought that last year was kind of a real euphoric atmosphere. Guys were jumping around. I think guys today were happy with the win and looking forward to our next challenge.
"I think that's all part of just growth and maturity in a team. This team is pretty businesslike. They are a team that understands that every night we expect each other to win. I think that we've been consistent throughout the year doing that with a few setbacks."
UNLV Looking for First Win vs. Illini
UNLV, which is making its fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the past five years, is 0-2 against Illinois, its opponent on Friday in the second round of the Southwest Region in Tulsa, Okla. The teams have never met in the NCAA Tournament. The Rebels are a No. 8 seed.
Illinois is the No. 9 seed and is making its 10th NCAA trip in the last 12 years (38-29 all-time record in NCAA Tournament). The Illini began the season with a 10-1 record and have gone 9-12 since, including 2-3 in their last six games. Illinois lost to Michigan, 60-55, in their opening game of the Big Ten Tournament. The Illini went 10-3 during non-conference play and were 9-9 in Big Ten Conference play.
Long Time, No See
When No. 2 seed San Diego State and No. 7 seed Temple hook up in the third round of the NCAA West Region in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday (3:10 p.m. PT, TNT), it will mark just the second time the teams have met.
The Aztecs posted a 75-64 victory over the Owls on Dec. 30, 1981, at the San Diego Sports Arena.
Temple finished second in the Atlantic 10 Conference during the regular season before losing to Richmond in the semifinals of the conference tournament. The Owls had won the conference tournament three consecutive times.
Aztecs senior forward Billy White posted his second consecutive double-double in the team's 68-50 win over Northern Colorado on Thursday, something he had never done in his career. White, who is averaging 16.5 points and 9.3 rebounds in the postseason, had a career-high 13 rebounds in Thursday's second-round win.
FISHER, ROSE ARE FINALISTS
San Diego State's Steve Fisher and BYU's Dave Rose are two of four finalists for the Naismith Coach of the Year Award.
The two were named MWC Co-Coaches of the Year this season, with Fisher also earning USBWA District IX Coach of the Year honors and Rose capturing the same accolade for District VIII.
Fisher has guided the Aztecs to a school-record 32-2 mark, a share of the MWC regular-season title and the MWC Tournament crown. The No. 5/6 Aztecs garnered a No. 2 seed in the NCAA West Region.
Rose has led BYU to a 30-4 record and a share of the MWC regular season title. The Cougars are a No. 3 seed in the Southeast Region in the NCAA Men's Division I Championship.
The other two finalists for the Naismith Coach of the Year award are Notre Dame's Mike Brey and Ohio State's Thad Matta.
TOUGH TO FIT
Much has been made about Kawhi Leonard's rebounding skills, an ability largely made possible by hands he claims span 10 inches from the heel of his palm to the tip of his middle finger.
Asked yesterday if he'd ever attempted to buy gloves, the San Diego State sophomore forward said: "I don't buy gloves. And I stopped playing football awhile ago. But if I needed to, I think I'd have trouble finding gloves."
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
"When I was a little kid, I dreamed of this, being at the NCAA Tournament and getting a high seed, so all the hard work has paid off. We're all very grateful, but we can't be satisfied. We want to show the nation we deserve the seed we got." ---- San Diego State guard James Rahon.
BACK TO WORK
Ranked No. 10/12 (AP/Coaches) in the nation, No. 3 seed BYU returns to action at the Pepsi Center in Denver on Thursday against No. 14 seed Wofford at 5:15 p.m. MT. The Cougars, co-champions of the MWC, are 30-4 overall and reached the championship game of the MWC Tournament before falling to No. 6/5 San Diego State.
National Player of the Year candidate Jimmer Fredette, who set a MWC and BYU single-game record with 52 points against New Mexico in the semifinals, is the nation's leading scorer at 28.5 points per game.
"You just got to go out and play," Fredette said of rebounding from his team's loss in the MWC Tournament championship game. "We've been a good team since I've been here and since (guard) Jackson (Emery) has been here. After we lose a game, we come back and win the next one. We've been good at that since Coach Rose's era. I think we're going to come out, play well, play hard.
"Obviously it was a tough loss. A lot of teams have lost like that in the conference finals. You just have to move on and go out and play the best that you can. I think we're going to be fine if we just go out and work hard and do what the coaches say."
BACK FOR MORE
This season marks BYU's 25th NCAA Tournament appearance in the program's history. The Cougars have a 12-28 record in the NCAA Tournament and are making their second appearance in Denver. In 2004, the Cougars were a No. 12 seed and lost to No. 12 Syracuse 80-75.
BYU has gone to the NCAA Tournament eight out of the last 11 seasons (2001, 2003, 2004, 2007,2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). The Cougars have earned a postseason tournament invitation in 11 of the last 12 years. By earning a No. 3 seed in 2011, the Cougars matched their best seed in program history.
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
Northern Colorado coach B.J. Hill, whose 15th-seeded Bears will make their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament when they face No. 2 seed San Diego State in Tucson on Thursday, has ample concern about Aztecs standout sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard, who enters the tournament averaging a team-best 14.8 points and is the leading rebounder in the MWC (11.9 rpg), was not on the roster when Northern Colorado beat the Aztecs 62-52 in San Diego in 2008.
"That's a long list," Hill said when asked what concerns him most the two-time all-MWC selection. "He's a deadly combination of size, athleticism and motor. You don't really see guys that are 6-7, 225 have his skill set and play with the tenacity that he does for every second he's out there. I mean, he's what all coaches dream of.
"A lot of times you can get little guards at 5-10 or 5-11 who can play like that. But to find a 6-7 guy with that skill set and that energy is awfully hard. That's why he's the type of player he is and can do the things he does."
DIDN'T YOU USED TO BE...?
UNLV (24-8), which has won six of its last seven games, drew a No. 8 seed in the Southwest Regional and will face No. 9 seed Illinois (19-13) in a second-round game in Tulsa, Okla., on Friday at 8:20 p.m. CT.
The game will match seventh-year UNLV head coach Lon Kruger against his former team. Kruger coached the Illini for four seasons from 1996-97 to 1999-2000 before leaving for the NBA to take over the Atlanta Hawks. Kruger has never faced Illinois in his 25 years as a head coach, but this will mark the second time he has faced one of his former schools in the NCAA tournament (his final game leading Illinois was a loss to Florida in the second round of the 2000 event).
"Anytime you see your name announced up there you feel pretty good about that," Kruger said. "These guys are very deserving to be playing in the tournament, they're excited about that, we're excited for them, for our fans and everyone involved. Illinois has a great basketball tradition, an outstanding team and we look forward to traveling to Tulsa to play them on Friday."
- San Diego State senior point guard D.J. Gay will tell you that teammate Billy White wears his heart on his sleeve, that his passion is unparalleled, that his talents border on ridiculous and that his desire to win transcends want-to.
And yet, there remains the mysterious side of Billy White, the one that ranges from superb to sub-par, the one where he scores 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting against Wichita State, then tumbles into single-digit territory in two of his next three games.
Rest assured, however, there is no mystery to this: If MWC co-regular season and tournament champion San Diego State is to advance in the NCAA Tournament, the performance of Billy White is not only key, it's positively crucial.
"Billy probably had his finest hour in the Mountain West Conference Tournament," coach Steve Fisher said Wednesday. "He has not been as consistent as he was in that tournament run. When he's as aggressive as he was in that tournament, he had seven offensive rebounds in (the championship game) and that was more than he had in the last 10 games put together. When he plays like that, we're obviously better. We're hopeful he'll continue to play that way."
If he does, SDSU will not only be a thorn in the second and third rounds here over the next three days, it could be a be a handful all the way to Houston, where the Final Four will be staged April 2-4. The No. 2 seed Aztecs, who have never won an NCAA Tournament game, will begin that quest anew on Thursday when they face No. 15 seed and Big Sky Conference champion Northern Colorado (21-10) at approximately 1:40 p.m. PT at the University of Arizona's McKale Center.
For White, the clock is ticking. As a senior, he is keenly aware that his tomorrows are based solely on triumphs, that sub-par performances are almost certain to torpedo the dreams he dares to dream.
The challenge is up to White, and prior to the MWC Tournament, Fisher let him know it. In helping to knock off BYU, the only team to beat the Aztecs this season, the 6-foot-8 White scored a team-high 21 points, collected a career-high 12 rebounds and tied a career high with five steals while often assigned to defend National Player of the Year candidate Jimmer Fredette.
For the first time this season, White has scored in double figures in four straight games, averaging 14.2 points and 7.2 rebounds. His 21-point effort in the MWC Tournament title game against BYU represented his third highest-scoring total of the season.
"When Billy plays like that, it's almost impossible to beat us," Gay said. "He's definitely become a monster the last four games. His focus has just gone to a whole different level. He's playing for something big; he's playing for us. He knows if he plays well, then everybody else is going to feed off of it."
White, who ranks first on the SDSU career list in field-goal percentage (.604) and games started (121), has finished with a field-goal percentage of 50 percent or higher in eight of his last 12 games in which he attempted a shot. Of course, that would exclude his performance in the Aztecs' 68-62 win over New Mexico on Feb. 16, when he finished 0-for-0 from the field and the foul line.
"I've just tried to step up every part of my game," White said. "Coach Fisher challenged me a little bit before the (MWC) tournament, and I thought I had something to prove, not only to my teammates but to myself. I don't think I was really doing anything bad. Coach just told me, 'You're a great player. If you play well the whole team is going to play well. Don't get down on yourself, just keep playing.'
"Every game right now could be our last, and I don't want that to happen. I want to help take this team all the way to Houston. I have to step it up just a little bit more."
Let the Madness begin! The 12th edition of the Mountain West Conference Basketball Tournament tips off today with three first-round contests in the women's bracket. The schedule opens with No. 4 seed Colorado State vs. No. 9 seed Air Force at 2 p.m. PT. The Falcons seek their second win in the MWC tournament, after defeating the Rams, 47-46, in the first round of the 2007 tournament. Colorado State's record of 7-9 in Conference play this season was its best since 2003-04. Also on today's slate is No. 5 seed Utah vs. No. 8 seed UNLV at 4 p.m. PT, and No. 6 seed San Diego State vs. No. 7 seed New Mexico.
Join me live from courtside as I'll be blogging throughout tournament play at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Plus, you can check out both the live audio stream of the game and track the stats at TheMWC.com/2011.
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."
Three Ball in the Corner
With 6:47 gone in Saturday's matchup between then-No. 7 BYU and No. 4 San Diego State, Cougars junior forward Noah Hartsock launched a three-point shot from deep in the corner. Amazingly, the ball caromed off the backboard and dropped through the net.
More amazing? Over the next 33:13, BYU would hit 11-of-21 three-point attempts and finish 14-of-24 (58.3 percent) beyond the arc en route to a 70-57 win and a possible No. 1 seed in both the Mountain West Conference and NCAA tournaments.
This against a team that came into the contest with a scoring defense that ranked No. 1 in the MWC and No. 7 nationally.
"We've been on the giving end of that, where we've shot that way," said SDSU coach Steve Fisher, whose team fell to 27-2 overall and 12-2 in league play. "It doesn't happen often, but it happened on a huge stage in a monumental game and (BYU) delivered. They were better than a good team; they were a sensational team."
Falcons Stop Skid
Prior to Saturday's 74-57 win over Colorado State, Air Force (14-13, 5-9) had been mired in a season-long four-game losing streak and had dropped six of its previous eight.
Against the Rams, four Falcon players (led by Michael Lyons' 21 points) scored in double figures and Air Force limited CSU to 32.2 percent shooting, the lowest by an MWC opponent this season.
"I thought we played with a great sense of urgency," said Falcons coach Jeff Reynolds, whose team also snapped a three-game losing streak against CSU. "I think the dynamics of the schedule, with our league being so good, sometimes you can play pretty good basketball and not get a win. It's hard on your team physically and mentally. It was good for us to get a win against a good team and let them see that hard work does pay off."
Air Force senior guard Evan Washington set a school record by making his 107th career start on Saturday.
A Senior's Steady Hand
It's not been the easiest of seasons for New Mexico senior point guard Dairese Gary. Directing traffic on a team comprised of four underclassmen, including two freshmen, the all-conference performer has largely served as a coach on the floor.
In Saturday's 80-70 win at TCU, however, the teacher turned into a terror, scoring a career-high 32 points.
With his team trailing 50-46 in the second half, Gary fueled a 27-8 run in which he scored 14 points. His final point total was the most by Lobos player since J.R. Giddens scored 36 against Wyoming on Feb. 9, 2008. Gary's performance came on the heels of a 26-point outing against UNLV on Wednesday and marked the first time a New Mexico player had posted consecutive 25-point games since Tony Dandridge had 29 in games against Utah and Wyoming in 2009. Gary scored 23 points in the second half against TCU and 20 of the team's final 29 over the last 9:33.
The conference's all-time assists leader, Gary also became the league's all-time leader in career starts when he made his 127th on Saturday.
"Because of Darington (Hobson) leaving early for the NBA last year, he (Gary) has been left by himself with a very young, inexperienced team and he's just been tremendous," said coach Steve Alford. "He's been patient with this team and he's been a very good leader. He's had to score more than what he's probably honestly capable of, because that's really not his role and he probably doesn't relish it, but he's just done everything he can possibly do to help us win games."
Willis Hits His Stride
After battling a lingering knee problem for much of the season, UNLV senior guard Tre'Von Willis appears to have found his groove, stringing together two of his strongest performances of the year in an overtime win at New Mexico and a home victory against Wyoming. Willis torched the nets with 14-of-21 shooting from the field, including an 8-of-11 effort from 3-point range, while averaging 20.0 points over the two contests. He has scored in double figures in six of his last seven games with two 20-point outings during that stretch, including his season-high 25 at UNM.
"I think it's really been about him being healthier," said coach Lon Kruger, whose team sits at 22-7 overall and 10-5 in league play. "The last two weeks have probably been a stretch in which he's felt as good as he has all year. He tweaked his knee a little bit at Colorado State (on Feb. 19) and that set him back a little, but he had a really gritty effort against New Mexico, and he probably felt as healthy for the Wyoming game as he has during conference play. I think that combined with knowing there are just a few games left in his senior year has him very focused right now."
Fighting the Good Fight
With TCU (10-20, 1-14) having lost 12 straight and facing the possibility of entering next week's conference tournament with one league win, it might be easy for the team's players to cash it in and start anew in 2010-11.
According to coach Jim Christian, however, such is not the case.
"When you've gone through the stretch we have, it's easy for players to become disconcerted or not try hard," Christian said. "But we've got good kids and I think we have the right kind of foundation to build a successful program with our younger players and the guys we have returning.
"You win with character, and if we're going to turn this around, it's going to take strong-character people to do it. I think we have the people in place to do that. We have players who just keep fighting through it and I think they're starting to see how they fit into the foundation and they're starting to see the big picture. Nobody likes losing, but these guys aren't about to quit."
Slow the Pace, Increase the Wins
Utah coach Jim Boylen, citing concerns about his team's high turnover count, has opted to slow the pace of his offense. The move would appear to be paying dividends, as the Utes (6-8, 13-15) have won three straight after dropping five in a row.
"I just didn't like how we were playing during that first 10 or 12 seconds of the shot clock," Boylen said. "We were turning the ball over way too much and I didn't like our shots-on-goal. So I said if we're not going to get anything during those first 10-14 seconds, let's find a layup or something wide open. If we don't have numbers, we're going to walk it up to halfcourt. It just really came down to poor shot selection, turnovers and poor decisions. I just felt we were putting too much pressure on our guys to score early in the shot clock."
With his team having dropped three straight to in falling to 18-10 overall and 8-6 in league play, Colorado State coach Tim Miles knows his team's chances of garnering an NCAA Tournament bid could be slipping away.
But with this year's tournament field expanded to 68 teams and the MWC Tournament looming at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas next week, the Rams, who averaged a conference-best 80.5 points in games against league leader BYU, can't be counted out just yet. At last year's MWC Tournament, the Rams came within a point of knocking off eventual champion San Diego State.
"I like the idea of having 68 teams," Miles said. "The last four teams to get into the tournament probably do have a little hitch in their giddyup, but that's what makes it great. Kids get a chance to fight their way into the tournament and get a chance to prove themselves. I know coaches who get fired for not making the tournament would like to see more teams in, but at the same time you want a competitive tournament."
The Pleasure's Mine
Five games into his tenure as interim head coach at Wyoming, Fred Langley, who has guided the team to two of its three conference wins, is having a difficult time disguising his passion for the job.
"I'm having a blast," said Langley. "It's always been a goal of mine to be a Division I head coach and to help jump-start a program. But I'm just having a blast, and I think the guys are having a good time. Obviously, we'd like to win some more games, but I'm pleased with the effort and with just how well the guys are staying together."
Mick McGrane has covered the Mountain West since the league's inception in 1999. He spent 12 years at the San Diego Union-Tribune, where he served as the beat writer for San Diego State football and men's basketball. He currently represents the MW as a member of the Football Writers Association of America All-America Committee and is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. McGrane serves as senior writer to the Mountain West, providing readers with exclusive, in-depth information about the Conference by highlighting its 10 member institutions and contributing feature stories on student-athletes that participate in the league's 18 sponsored sports.
Have a question for Mick? E-mail him at mick@TheMWC.com or check him out on Twitter @MWCMick.
Mark Knudson is a Colorado State journalism school graduate and a 12-year veteran of professional baseball. During his playing career, Mark pitched for three major league teams, including the Colorado Rockies, where he was the first Colorado native to play for the hometown team. He recorded wins over three of the four legendary pitchers who make up the 4,000 strikeout club: Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens. His win over Ryan came for the Milwaukee Brewers on Opening Day in 1991.
Since his retirement, Mark has been a feature writer and columnist for Mile High Sports, a radio talk show host and TV analyst for numerous sports media outlets. For the past six years, he was a columnist and baseball analyst for The Mtn., along with being one of Colorado's six Heisman Trophy voters.
Have a question for Mark? Visit him at ElevationSportsNetwork.com or check him out on Twitter @MarkKnudson41.