Wow. What a night it was for Western Athletic Conference basketball.
Three key matchups were played last night in the WAC, and every one of them ended up with major implications for the conference’s battle for regular season supremacy.
The reigning juggernaut was felled — yes, Louisiana Tech (5-1 WAC) is mortal. We thought that first loss might come at some point on the road — but to the Spartans? That wasn’t our projection. But Adrian Oliver went off for a career night to power San Jose State (3-3 WAC) up and over the WAC’s Eastern Bulldogs. How career? Try 39 points on 12-for-19 shooting. Wowzers. Unstoppable.
One key to the upset: a big defensive performance against Louisiana Tech’s sharpshooter Jamel Guyton. Usually good for 15 points a night, the Spartans locked him down to just six last night, on a stone-cold 2-for-9 performance from the floor.
The Bulldogs haven’t faced much adversity this year, and they’ll be continuing their grueling road trip out to Hawaii tomorrow. How they respond will tell us much about the strength of Louisiana Tech down the stretch. If we had to bet, we’d put our money on them bouncing back just fine. For the Spartans, it’s red-hot New Mexico State next on the slate.
This game wasn’t even as close as the score — and for the Western Bulldogs, big trouble might be in store. Fresno State’s all-everything stud and projected NBA lottery pick Paul George went down with a sprained ankle early and the team folded like a house of cards shortly thereafter. A big night from Utah State’s juco transfer Brian Green (17 points on 6-for-9 shooting) helped pick up the slack from an off-key performance by Aggie big man Nate Bendall (4 points, 3 rebounds).
Without George, the Bulldogs (3-3 WAC) look utterly hopeless — they went a breathtakingly awful 29 percent from the floor, boat-anchored by Sylvester Seay’s 1-for-12 epic fail. It’s unknown yet as to how long George will be out, but he’ll at least miss Fresno State’s next game — a tough home test against Nevada.
Utah State improved to 4-2 in conference play and now has a four-game win streak, clearly putting them back on track to compete for a top-tier seed come March. They come up to Moscow tomorrow in a game the Vandals’ season probably hinges on. Don’t miss it.
Gotta love the WAC. First half, New Mexico State looks hopeless. Second half, Hawaii looks hopeless. Then Jahmar Young steps back and cans an 18-foot game-winner with 00.9 on the clock. What a battle, what a basketball game. Roderick Flemings did everything he could to boost the Rainbow Warriors (2-4 WAC) to victory on their home floor, throwing down 23 points and cleaning up 10 rebounds, but Young did him three better on the scoreboard — just enough to make the difference.
New Mexico State (5-1 WAC) is now in a tie for first with the Eastern Bulldogs, but they’ll have to play Bulldog-slayer San Jose State tomorrow. The Aggies have gotten big breaks down the stretch in many close games — can the streak continue? Well, if Young and Jonathan Gibson (19 points, 3 assists, 4 steals) keep playing like they are… it sure can.
The Rainbow Warriors won’t get any rest either — they face Louisiana Tech, and Kerry Rupp’s squad will no doubt be thirsty for revenge after being handed their first WAC loss of the season. Hiram Thompson was seen limping all game long from a lingering foot injury, but he played 38 ironman minutes nonetheless. Can he keep it up? Hawaii needs him to — desperately.