MW rankings: ‘Mission accomplished’ for Pack
For the Nevada Appeal
The Mountain West played 99 men’s basketball conference games this season from Jan. 2 through last Saturday night to get to a conclusion that everyone expected all along.
The Nevada Wolf Pack is the No. 1 seed in this week’s Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas. The Wolf Pack (28-3, 15-3), also as expected, is the No. 1 team in the final Nevada Appeal Mountain West rankings of the season.
The Wolf Pack, No. 1 in the rankings each week this season, beat Air Force 90-79 on the road and San Diego State 81-53 at home last week to wrap up its third consecutive conference regular season title.
“When you get to conference play, the number one goal is to figure a way to get the No. 1 seed and win the conference,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said last Saturday night. “Mission accomplished on both ends.”
The Wolf Pack will play the winner of Wednesday’s Boise State-Colorado State game on Thursday at noon in Las Vegas. The Pack has won just five conference tournament titles (1984, 1985 in the Big Sky Conference, 2004 and 2006 in the Western Athletic Conference and 2017 in the Mountain West) in its school history.
“Winning the conference regular season title is much more meaningful than just getting hot for three games (in the conference tournament),” said Musselman, whose Wolf Pack is a near lock to go to the NCAA tournament no matter what happens in Las Vegas this week.
No. 2 Utah State (25-6, 15-3) has won seven games in a row and 14 of its last 15 and clinched a share of the Mountain West regular season title by beating Colorado State, 100-96, last week. The Aggies, though, had to go to overtime to do it and needed 38 points from Sam Merrill.
No. 7 Colorado State also lost to UNLV 65-60 last week to finish the regular season at 12-19, 7-11. The Rams, though, gained confidence by narrowly losing to Utah State. Colorado State led by two with 19 seconds left in the second half when star center Nico Carvacho (a conference-best 13.2 rebounds a game) fouled out and wasn’t available in the overtime.
“If (the Rams players) don’t see that they’re improved this year, then they’re not looking hard enough,” Colorado State coach Niko Medved said.
No. 3 Fresno State heads into the conference tournament with a three-game winning streak. The Bulldogs beat San Diego State 76-74 and San Jose State 121-81 last week and are now 22-8, 13-5.
The game against San Jose State was simply a celebration of Fresno State basketball. Seniors Deshon Taylor (37 points) and Braxton Huggins (34) set career highs for scoring. The 121 points are the most scored in a game by a Mountain West team this season and are also a record for a game in Fresno’s Save Mart Center, which opened in the 2003-04 season. Huggins’ 10 threes against San Jose State are also a Fresno State school record.
“That’s what family is,” said Huggins, who was 10-of-16 on threes against San Jose State after going 1-for-9 against San Diego State three nights earlier. “They realized I only needed two threes to get (the school record) and we all came together and said, ‘Let’s figure out how to get it and find the best shot.’”
The Bulldogs, despite 22 victories already, likely need to win the Mountain West tournament to get to the NCAA tournament.
“It’s March now,” Taylor said. “Anything can happen in March.”
No. 4 San Diego State heads into the conference tournament at a low point. The Aztecs (19-12, 11-7) have lost three of their last four games after beating Nevada and UNLV in back-to-back games two weeks ago.
The Aztecs’ loss to Fresno State in their final home game of the season is the school’s first loss on Senior Night since 2005. Fresno State trailed by six with 1:18 to go and scored the last seven points to win the game. “We smelled a little blood,” Fresno State coach Justin Hutson said.
San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher blamed himself for the loss. “I didn’t find a way to get a timeout to stop some of that momentum,” Dutcher said.
No. 5 UNLV won its only game last week, 65-60 over Colorado State. The Rebels (17-13, 11-7), which have won five of their last seven games, got 20 points (6-of-6 on threes) from guard Kris Clyburn.
No. 6 Air Force (13-17, 8-10) played well against Nevada (losing 90-79) and were completely thrashed by Boise State (80-52) last week. Ryan Swann had 21 points against Nevada and just two against Boise State.
No. 8 Boise State (12-19, 7-11) lost 73-72 at New Mexico before recovering to whip Air Force. Justinian Jessup had 23 points in five threes against New Mexico.
No. 9 New Mexico (13-17, 7-11) had a big edge in free throws against Boise State in their final game this season at home. The Lobos were 19-of-24 from the line while Boise State was just 10-of-11.
New Mexico followed up that win over Boise with a disappointing 88-81 loss to Wyoming despite 22 points and 20 rebounds by Carlton Bragg.
No. 10 Wyoming had arguably its best week of the season last week, beating New Mexico and San Jose State (81-71). The Cowboys, now 8-23, 4-14, had lost six in a row before last week. Justin James scored 53 points with 23 rebounds in the two games combined for the Cowboys.
No. 11 San Jose State (4-26, 1-17) lost to both Wyoming and Fresno State (121-81) last week. The 121 points allowed against Fresno is the most ever allowed in Spartans’ history.
The final Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the 2018-19 season …
1. NEVADA (28-3, 15-3): The Wolf Pack was just 31-of-53 (58 percent) on free throws last week in two games. Last week: Nevada 90, Air Force 79 (Tuesday), Nevada 81, San Diego State 53 (Saturday). This week: Nevada vs. Boise State-Colorado State winner, Thursday in Las Vegas (noon).
2. UTAH STATE (25-6, 15-3): Sam Merrill is now second in the Mountain West in scoring this season at 21.0 points a game. Last week: Utah State 100, Colorado State 96, OT (Tuesday). This week: Utah State vs. New Mexico-Wyoming winner, Thursday in Las Vegas, 6 p.m.
3. FRESNO STATE (22-8, 13-5): The Bulldogs were 33-of-67 on threes last week in two games. Last week: Fresno State 76, San Diego State 74 (Wednesday), Fresno State 121, San Jose State 81 (Saturday). This week: Fresno State vs. Air Force-San Jose State winner, Thursday in Las Vegas (8:30 p.m.).
4. SAN DIEGO STATE (19-12, 11-7): The Aztecs shot just 42-of-111 from the floor (38 percent) last week in two games. Last week: Fresno State 76, San Diego State 74 (Wednesday), Nevada 81, San Diego State 53 (Saturday). This week: San Diego State at UNLV, Thursday (2:30 p.m.).
5. UNLV (17-13, 11-7): The Rebels’ Noah Robotham is tied with Nevada’s Cody Martin for first in the Mountain West with 5.1 assists per game. Last week: UNLV 65, Colorado State 60 (Saturday). This week: San Diego State at UNLV, Thursday (2:30 p.m.).
6. AIR FORCE (13-17, 8-10): The Falcons drew a crowd of just 3,852 for its final home game of the year last week. Last week: Nevada 90, Air Force 79 (Tuesday), Boise State 80, Air Force 52 (Saturday). This week: Air Force vs. San Jose State in Las Vegas, Wednesday (4 p.m.).
7. COLORADO STATE (12-19, 7-11): The Rams drew just 6,053 fans combined over two games last week at home. Last week: Utah State 100, Colorado State 96, OT (Tuesday), UNLV 65, Colorado State 60 (Saturday). This week: Colorado State vs. Boise State in Las Vegas, Wednesday, 11 a.m.
8. BOISE STATE (12-19, 7-11): Derrick Alston had 45 points combined in two games last week. Last week: New Mexico 73, Boise State 72 (Wednesday), Boise State 80, Air Force 52 (Saturday). This week: Colorado State vs. Boise State in Las Vegas, Wednesday, 11 a.m.
9. NEW MEXICO (13-17, 7-11): Makuach Maluach had 18 points on three threes last week against Wyoming but also did not pull down a rebound in 33 minutes. Last week: New Mexico 73, Boise State 72 (Wednesday), Wyoming 88, New Mexico 81 (Saturday). This week: New Mexico vs. Wyoming in Las Vegas, Wednesday (1:30 p.m.).
10. WYOMING (8-23, 4-14): The Cowboys drew a crowd of just 4,113 for their Senior Night last week (a win over New Mexico). Last week: Wyoming 81, San Jose State 71 (Wednesday), Wyoming 88, New Mexico 81 (Saturday). This week: New Mexico vs. Wyoming in Las Vegas, Wednesday (1:30 p.m.).
11. SAN JOSE STATE (4-26, 1-17): San Jose State drew a crowd of 2,960 last week for its Senior Night against Wyoming. It was the Spartans’ largest home crowd of the season. Last week: Wyoming 81, San Jose State 71 (Wednesday), Fresno State 121, San Jose State 81 (Saturday). This week: Air Force vs. San Jose State in Las Vegas, Wednesday (4 p.m.).