March Madness nearing

Feb 182003
Authors: Joshua Pilkington

With March around the corner, college basketball fans turn their collective attention to postseason bids and brackets.

With six conference games and a conference tournament left on the schedule, four Mountain West Conference teams are making their push for postseason tournament invitations. Recent history shows that MWC teams which win 20 or more games during the regular season have been invited to the postseason.

Utah has already reached 20 wins, and BYU and Wyoming are close behind with 18 victories.

As far as postseason births are concerned Utah, BYU, UNLV and Wyoming appear to be the most likely to receive bids. According to the College Basketball News RPI report, the MWC is rated seventh among 32 conferences in RPI with Utah (14), BYU (20), UNLV (42) and Wyoming (55) ranking among the best nationally.

Utah – The Utes became the first Mountain West team to crack the AP top 25 this season by jumping into the No. 23 spot in the standings on the strength of an 8-1 conference record and an eight-game winning streak.

The Runnin’ Utes squeaked by UNLV in Salt Lake City Monday night in an 86-80 overtime thriller. Utah’s current winning streak is a MWC record.

Brigham Young – BYU managed to hold of a late San Diego State rally as it beat the Aztecs 66-64 in Provo, Utah, Monday night. The win boosts the Cougars’ record to 7-2, the best league record ever posted by a Cougar team through nine games.

Junior forward Mark Bigelow continued to move up the list of BYU’s all-time career scoring leaders by netting 16 points in the victory. Bigelow is ranked 20th with 1,194 points and needs two more to move into 19th place.

Wyoming – The Cowboys escaped Colorado Springs with a 64-57 victory over the Falcons of Air Force Monday night. The win helped them keep a strong hold on third place.

Guard Jay Straight scored 27 points while hitting all five of his three-point attempts in the victory as Wyoming shot better than 50 percent from the field for the fourth time in six games.

UNLV – With a three-game winning streak on the line, UNLV came close but failed to make it four against Utah. Prior to the loss, the Runnin’ Rebels managed to turn their season around with a 69-64 road win against San Diego State Feb. 11 and an equally important 61-54 win over BYU in Las Vegas.

As the host of the MWC tournament again this year, UNLV should have the upper hand on the rest of the conference when postseason play rolls around.

San Diego State – The Aztecs continue to look for the strong performance that led them to the MWC tournament championship and a bid to the NCAA tournament in 2002. After starting MWC play with consecutive victories over Air Force and Utah, the Aztecs have dropped six of their last seven conference games, including a current three-game losing streak.

New Mexico – Rueben Douglas continues to be the offense for the Lobos, leading the nation in scoring with 28.2 points per game. Douglas put up 28 against the Rams on Monday night in an 82-72 victory, helping the Lobos out of the cellar of the MWC and into a tie for fifth place.

With no signs of slowing down, Douglas is looking to become the first player in MWC history to average more than 20 points per game for a season.

Air Force – After the win over the Rams on Saturday, the Falcons reached 11 wins for the first time since 1989-90.

In the victory, the Falcons set several shooting records. Their 71.9 field goal percentage in the game is a MWC record, and a record for an Air Force team in conference play. The team’s 80 points were a record for points scored by the Falcons against an MWC opponent. Freshman Antoine Hood’s game-high 30 points were a Falcon and MWC freshman record.

A narrow defeat to Wyoming at Clune Arena on Monday night kept the Falcons in the cellar of the conference, but the team’s 8-2 home record is its best since 1987-88.

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