Las Cruces, NM The race for both the men’s and women’s WAC regular season titles involved numerous teams and came down to the final Saturday of the regular season. The one consistent was that both races ended with Boise State teams sharing in the title. Now, the attention has shifted from a 16 game conference slate to a four day tournament that will determine the WAC’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament on both the men’s and women’s side.
With an eye on a WAC Tournament championship that won’t involve sharing with any other teams, the Bronco women open play tonight (Wednesday, March 12) at 8:30 p.m. against Utah State, while the Bronco men take on Hawai’i tomorrow afternoon (Thursday, March 13) in the first men’s quarterfinal game at Noon.
The Boise State women’s team enters the tournament as the hottest team in the WAC on either the men’s or women’s side, winning 14 straight games and looking to defend their WAC tournament title from a year ago. Despite not having lost a game since January 10th, the Broncos were relegated to the number two seed after tying for the WAC regular season title with Fresno State (which also posted a 14-2 record but won the tiebreaker). It’s a reversal of fortunes entering this year’s tournament, as last year the Broncos were the tournament darling after unseating perennial WAC power Louisiana Tech as the number one seed and marched through the tournament to claim the school’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 1994. This year, Fresno State enters tourney week with the number one seed, the conference player and coach of the year and picking up the headlines along the way.
Tonight’s quarterfinal game for the Boise State women is the team’s second against Utah State in a matter of six days. Last Thursday, the Broncos downed the Aggies 65-57 in Logan to claim a share of their second straight WAC regular season title. In claiming a season sweep of Utah State, BSU won both games by eight points (also winning 85-77 in Boise in mid-January). Tasha Harris paced the Broncos in both wins, averaging 18.5 points against the Aggies, while grabbing 14 rebounds and dishing out nine assists.
Harris has provided the Bronco spark all year, earning first team All-WAC honors and hitting the thousand-point career scoring mark in what has proved to be a memorable junior season. Harris leads the league in scoring at 16.3 points per game, while averging 3.7 assists and nailing 41 three-pointers. She combines with backcourt mate Jessica Thompson to provide Boise State with the best one-two guard punch in the WAC. Thompson earned second team All-WAC honors, averaging just under 14 points per game and also hitting 41 three-point shots. The duo helped pace a Bronco offensive attack that leads the WAC in scoring (73.9 points per game), and owns an 18-1 record this season when scoring 70 or more points (40-4 overall under Gordy Presnell when scoring 70+ points).
The Boise State men ended the regular season with a disappointing 88-69 home loss to Utah State last Thursday night, a game that could have clinched an outright regular season league title. Now, they must rebound and focus on a three-game season to keep the post-season push alive. Despite losing the regular season finale, the Broncos staked claim to their first WAC basketball title and first conference title of any kind since 1998-99 by going 12-4 during the league slate. A four way log jam at the top of the league standings pushed the Broncos to the conference tournament fourth seed, but does not take away from a 22-8 regular season and share of the league championship.
Thursday’s quarterfinal draw is Hawai’i, a team that limps into the WAC Tournament after losing six straight games to end the regular season. It will be the second meeting in less than two weeks between the Broncos and Rainbow Warriors. Tyler Tiedeman and Reggie Larry combined for 45 points in leading the Broncos to a 78-71 road win in Honolulu on March 1, completing the season sweep of the Bows by Boise State (BSU won 95-80 in Boise on January 24th as well). The Broncos opened up sizeable first and second half leads in both games, before seeing furious second half Warrior comebacks close the gap.
Boise State was well represented in the WAC post-season honors category, with three players and head coach Greg Graham garnering recognition. Senior forward Reggie Larry was named first team All-WAC, with his 18.9 points per game scoring average and WAC best 9.2 rebounding average. Frontcourt teammate Matt Nelson was named to the league’s second team, ranking eighth in the WAC in scoring (16.6 points per game), second in rebounding to Larry (7.4 rebounds per game) and third in field goal percentage (65.7 percent). Senior guard Matt Bauscher earned a spot among the WAC’s top five best defenders, typically drawing the assignment of guarding the opposition’s best perimeter player night in and night out.
After leading the Broncos to just the school’s eighth 20-win season in school history and a share of the league regular season title, Graham was reward by earning the WAC’s 2008 Don Haskins Coach of the Year award in a vote of league coaches. Graham was also recognized by the National Association of Basketball Coaches with the NABC District 13 Coach of the Year award. In addition to the 20-win regular season and WAC championship, Graham also recorded his 100th career win as Bronco head coach during the regular season.
Check back to www.broncosports.com throughout the week for WAC Tournament updates, recaps and photos.