WAC Recap: New Mexico State Knocks Off UTPA, Utah Valley Hangs On Against Chicago State

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

New Mexico State, Utah Valley, Grand Canyon, and UMKC all took home big wins in the WAC on Saturday. Who is the team to beat as start to head down the stretch?

Utah Valley Holds Off Chicago State 62-55

Utah Valley looked to be on its way to an easy victory on Saturday night, holding a 54-41 lead with 4:31 to go in its contest against the Chicago State Cougars. A late 13-2 surge by the Cougars pulled them to within two points (54-56) with 1:12 left in the game. Unfortunately for Chicago State, that was as close as they would get and Utah Valley nailed its late-game free throws to take this one 62-55.

Utah Valley had a very balanced offensive approach that led to four players in double digits (Zach Nelson and Keawe Enos each with ten, Ben Aird with 11, and Holton Hunsaker with 13). However, it'd be nice to see the Wolverines convert more than 19 out of 34 free throws.

Chicago State once again had some difficulty defending without fouling, and two of its starters fouled out in the game as the Cougars sent Utah Valley to the charity stripe 34 times. Clarke Rosenberg led his team with 19 points in the game and Matt Ross posted a double-double with 13 points and 11 boards.

New Mexico State Looking for Momentum After 90-78 Win

New Mexico State, fresh off two straight losses last week, had something to prove coming into tonight's contest. Even without center Sim Bhullar, who is still nursing an injured foot, the Aggies must find a way to dominate the conference the way they were supposed to. Texas Pan-American, fresh off two surprising blowout victories, was the perfect test for the Aggies.

At the start of the game, it looked like Texas Pan-American was on its way to shocking the conference again with a road win against the toughest team in the conference. Unfortunately for them, open looks stopped falling and they couldn't figure out a way to defend without fouling. What started off as a 17-5 advantage for the Broncs ended up as a 23-23 tie at the 8:40 mark of the first half. The Aggies took the lead after that and while they allowed the Broncs to hang with them for most of the game, they ended up winning rather easily. Daniel Mullings scored a career-high 32 points despite turning the ball over seven (!) times.

The Broncs played with a lot more energy throughout the game than the Aggies, thriving in an up-tempo system and a motion offense that allowed a lot of shooters to get open looks. The Broncs offense is a well-oiled machine when they play unselfishly with energy and movement. Texas Pan-American features a stunningly balanced attack that isn't easily stopped when an opposing defense decides to double-team one particular player. On defense, the Broncs utilize a 2-3 zone that includes a lot of movement and almost seems like a 1-3-1 zone at times.

Unfortunately, the Broncs were overwhelmingly undersized and were unable to defend without fouling, and there were long stretches were New Mexico State seemed to be scoring on every possession either by making a basket or draining free throws. Also, once Texas Pan-American started to lose their grip on the game, certain players tried to take over by creating shots for themselves.

This made it all too easy for New Mexico State to contest every shot and with the size advantage they had, grab nearly every rebound. Once the Broncs were forced to play in a slower tempo, they were unable to drive to the hoop and had to settle for mid-range shots which often rimmed out even when they were uncontested.

New Mexico State did a tremendous job slowing the tempo down and forcing the Broncs to play its way. With the size advantage that the Aggies had, they knew that all they had to do was force the Broncs into a half-court style of offense where they could force them to take long-range twos instead of driving to the lane.

Tshilidzi Nephawe did a great job protecting the rim and by not allowing the Broncs to have many second chances. The Aggies used their size advantage to force their way to the basket where the Broncs had no choice but to foul in order to stop the easy bucket. They also did a great job picking apart the Broncs' moving 2-3 zone by passing to the open man (usually Mullings) who darted into the lane and either made an easy basket or got harmed on the way up.

All in all, this was a very fun game to watch. If the Broncs can go back to their unselfish, up-tempo style of play they should be able to compete with anyone in the conference. It will also be key for them to learn how to defend the inside without fouling. Meanwhile, the Aggies regain their footing and are hopefully able to put last week behind them.

Grand Canyon Takes Care of Seattle 71-63

Grand Canyon might be new to this whole "Division One" thing, but nobody should be taking it easy on the Lopes in their rookie campaign. While the Lopes allowed Seattle to stick around with them for most of the first frame, a 13-0 run late in the first half would give Grand Canyon a comfortable lead that it never surrendered. While Seattle threatened pretty often and were able to stick around for much of the game, it wasn't able to get enough shots to fall to influence the game much.

Defense truly was the story for most of this game, for even the Lopes only shot 37.5 percent for the game. The Lopes defended the rim very well and blocked the Redhawks' shots ten times over the course of the game. On offense, the three-pointers were on-target for the Lopes and seemed to be their weapon of choice. Jerome Garrison led Grand Canyon with 24 points and Killian Larson added a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds. Grand Canyon also did an excellent job converting at the line.

Seattle had trouble getting anything to fall, no matter where its players were shooting it from. Be it twos, threes, or free throws, nothing seemed to be falling. As the floor leader of the team, I'd think Isiah Umipig would be able to get more than just one assist. Tough loss for the Redhawks who hope to prove that they are better than their 1-5 record currently shows. Luckily, Cal State Bakersfield was kind enough to join the Redhawks in the basement of the standings following a close loss to UMKC.

Cal State Bakersfield Blows Late Game Lead, Loses to UMKC 70-69

UMKC only held the lead for one fleeting instance in the second half of tonight's game against Cal State Bakersfield. That one "fleeting instance" happened to be the very same instance the game clock hit 0:00 following a last-second three-pointer by Frank Williams Jr.

Up until that final shot by Williams, the game was extremely close even though UMKC never actually took the lead after the mid-game trip to the locker room. Both teams played fantastic defense and held even on most statistical accounts. Martez Harrison scored 19 points for the Roos while the Roadrunners were led by Issiah Grayson and Javonte Maynor who each had 16.

Ultimately, the Roos probably should have taken this game by a larger margin, but terrific free throw accuracy by the Roadrunners and terrible free throw accuracy by the Roos kept the game close until the end. In a conference as weird and crazy as the WAC, it's interesting that a wild and crazy game ended with the better team pulling it out.

WACky Statistics:

  • Grand Canyon made more threes (11) than twos (7), and made more free throws (24) than both of those combined against Seattle.
  • Not a single player for Seattle recorded double digits in scoring against Grand Canyon.
  • Cal State Bakersfield as a team only makes 68.5 percent of their free throws, but made all 15 of its attempts tonight against UMKC.
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