La. Tech eliminates Nevada in WAC semis
AP Sports Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) – Trevor Gaskins scored 15 of his 21 points during Louisiana Tech’s hot-shooting first half, and the sixth-seeded Bulldogs held on late to stun regular season champion Nevada 78-73 on Friday night in the Western Athletic Conference semifinals.
The Bulldogs (18-15) face second-seeded New Mexico State in Saturday’s championship game. They became just the first No. 5 seed to reach the finals of the WAC tournament since Hawaii in 2001.
Louisiana Tech hit its first seven 3-point attempts and sprinted to a 34-19 lead. The Bulldogs made eight 3s total in the first half and then missed all four attempts in the second half. But they hit five free throws in the final 39 seconds to hold off the Wolf Pack (26-6).
Malik Story led Nevada with 21 points, but WAC player of the year Deonte Burton was harassed all night and finished with just five points.
WAC freshman of the year Raheem Appleby added 17 points and Romario Souza scored 16 as the Bulldogs avenged a pair of regular-season losses to the Wolf Pack. The teams played in the regular-season finale less than a week ago, a game that Nevada trailed 29-27 at halftime only to erupt for 52 points in the second half of a 79-69 victory.
There was no such rally this time around for the Wolf Pack, whose only loss in conference play came to Idaho. Nevada led 71-69 on Story’s 3-pointer with 2:49 left, then didn’t get another point until Jerry Evans Jr.’s, tip-in with 12 seconds left. Louisiana Tech closed the game on a 9-2 run that featured a basket by Souza and Brandon Gibson’s jumper in the lane with 1:37 left, and five clutch free throws late.
Despite 26 victories, Nevada is a long shot for an NCAA at-large bid. Even outgoing WAC commissioner Karl Benson said earlier Friday that Nevada’s safest route to the NCAAs was to win the tournament. Olek Czyz added 18 for the Wolf Pack.
Louisiana Tech’s blistering start wasn’t isolated to the 3-point line. The Bulldogs shot 67 percent in the first half and 53 percent for the game. They were also excellent at the free-throw line, hitting 18 of 22.
Because of their regular-season success, it seemed a matter of time before the Wolf Pack took control. It appeared to happen when Burton went crashing down on his back driving to the rim with just under 14 minutes remaining. Burton landed hard and remained on the ground as play continued in front court. Nevada coach David Carter burned a timeout so his star could be tended to, but Carter was furious officials didn’t stop play, having to be held back by his assistants and eventually being issued a technical foul.
Appleby hit the two technical free throws to give the Bulldogs a 53-48 lead, but Carter’s eruption snapped the Wolf Pack awake. Three consecutive turnovers by Louisiana Tech eventually gave Nevada the lead when Hunt hit a pair of free throws with 11:44 left for a 54-53 advantage, its first since the opening seconds of the game.
Louisiana Tech edged back in front, but Story’s 3-pointer with 6:25 left moved the Wolf Pack back in front 66-65. Story took an ill-advised 3-pointer in transition on Nevada’s next possession, and Souza’s two free throws pushed the Bulldogs ahead. But Story showed patience and found Czyz open underneath to go ahead 68-67 lead with 3:37 left and Story’s 3 with 2:49 left gave Nevada a two-point lead.
But the Bulldogs didn’t panic. Souza and Gibson made key baskets and Kenneth Smith made three free throws in the final 40 seconds before Gaskins’ pair to clinch it.
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