Another Monday, another Mountain West Player of the Week honor for Boise State junior forward James Webb III.
Webb has won the award three of the last four weeks, and the only one he didn't win, for the week ending Dec. 27, the Broncos did not play. The last time a Mountain West player won the honor three times in four weeks was BYU’s Jimmer Fredette from Jan. 3-24, when he won it four times in a row.
The Augusta, Ga., native had 37 points and 14 rebounds in a pair of wins last week. He shot 57.1 percent from the field, and did not have a turnover in 65 minutes. For the season, Webb leads the Broncos with 16.6 points per game, 8.4 rebounds per game, 11 blocks and 20 steals.
“He’s become my security blanket as far as not wanting to take him out of the game because he affects the game in so many different positive ways,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said after Saturday’s 81-70 win over Fresno State.
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Boise State (12-4, 3-0) plays at Nevada at 8 p.m. MT Wednesday, seeking its school record-tying 10th straight win. The Broncos are No. 49 in the latest NCAA RPI and received one vote in the most recent USA Today coaches’ poll.
Here is the weekly look around the Mountain West, courtesy the conference’s beat writers:
Air Force just can’t catch a break right now. Even when it comes to travel.
The Falcons dropped two games by a combined 35 points last week, and both – at Wyoming and home vs. Nevada – were matchups that the team liked and entered into with seemingly realistic chances of winning.
Now Air Force is 1-2 in league play and entering a stretch of back-to-back road games. But those travels have begun with complications.
The plan was for the Falcons to catch a military plane to Hill Air Force Base, just north of Salt Lake City, on Monday morning in advance of Tuesday night’s game at Utah State. Those plans fell through when the place became unavailable. As a backup, all government employees in the team’s traveling party (which includes the players) had purchased refundable tickets out of Denver on Southwest. So they were fine to get out Monday evening. Coach Dave Pilipovich and his staff, however, were left scrambling to get seats on the same flight. It worked out, as five spots remained on the plane for Air Force’s five coaches.
But the plan meant Air Force (10-6, 1-2) couldn’t practice in Utah on Tuesday and it meant they traveled late into the evening between the flight and bus rides from the academy to Denver and from Salt Lake City to Logan.
“We had everything planned out for a team dinner and we were going to watch the college football championship game,” Pilipovich said.
Those plans were scrapped, as the team was scheduled to instead be traveling during the entire game.
The situation wasn’t dire, but for a team in need of something positive Monday’s complications weren’t exactly greeted with open arms.
This week: at Utah State, 7 p.m. MT, Tuesday (Root); at UNLV, 7 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN3)
— Brent Briggeman, The Gazette
Following up his breakout season in which he was named Mountain West Newcomer of the Year, Boise State forward James Webb III has continued to build upon it his junior campaign.
Webb leads the Broncos with 16.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, along with 11 blocks and 20 steals. Webb was named the MW Player of the Week for the second straight week, and third time this season.
Boise State had a void with an attacking presence with 2014-15 MW Player of the Year Derrick Marks' graduation, and Webb took it as part of his improvement.
"Derrick was that guy last year," Webb said. "I may not be able to post up all the time, but I can get into the lane and get some rebounds, things like that."
In his last eight games, Webb has attempted 61 free throws. He put up 58 all last season in 32 games played. Though his 3-point percentage has dipped from 40.9 percent to 31.4, his ability to attack the rim has made him just as, if not more, effective. He has 23 or more points in four of the last five games.
"He’s become my security blanket as far as not wanting to take him out of the game because he affects the game in so many different positive ways," Boise State coach Leon Rice said.
This week: at Nevada, 8 p.m. MT Wednesday (MW Network — online); vs. San Diego State, 8 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN2).
— Dave Southorn, Idaho Statesman
John Gillon didn’t hesitate to drive the lane and get to the rim.
The Colorado State guard was either going to get fouled and sent to the free-throw line, where he’s the Mountain West’s leading shooter at 92.2 percent (71 of 77), or get all the way to the basket and score.
Gillon, a senior from Houston, did it twice last week while leading the Rams to a pair of one-point victories.
He was fouled and went to the free-throw line Wednesday night, where he made the second of two free throws with 1.1 seconds left to give the Rams a 66-65 home win over UNLV.
Saturday night at San Jose State, he got through unscathed and made a layup with 10.9 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Rams an 85-84 win.
“Once you do it enough, you start to get used to it,” Gillon said. “You start to get used to that moment. It’s not like it’s not nerve-racking and all, but it’s not as bad.”
The winning free throw versus UNLV wasn’t as big a deal for Gillon. He knows how to draw fouls with his quick drives. Making the basket at San Jose State, though, showed a new level of growth for Gillon, coach Larry Eustachy said.
“I think John, when he’s on point and really concentrating, he can elevate above that rim and finish,” Eustachy said. “I think lots of times he just goes in there hoping to draw the foul, and when he goes in with an attitude that I’m going to make this and draw the foul, he’s really effective.
“There’s lots of times when he goes in there, falls down and acts like he’s fouled and shoots the ball below the net. He’s learning that he can do both. He’s much better when he gets in there and eyes up, as we say, on the target and tries to finish.”
This week: vs. San Diego State, 8 p.m. Wednesday (CBS Sports Network), vs. Utah State, 2 p.m. Saturday (ESPN3)
— Kelly Lyell, Fort Collins Coloradoan
The Bulldogs did the good team/bad team thing again, playing probably their best game of the season in ripping Nevada 85-63 before going on the road and getting drilled early in an 81-70 loss at Boise State.
In beating the Wolf Pack, Fresno State (11-6, 2-2) hit 52.9 percent of its shots, while holding Nevada to 35.3 percent including a 1 of 13 at the three-point line. But, following the first week of the MW season where it won at UNLV only to come home and play poorly in a loss to New Mexico, it couldn’t put back-to-back games together. In the loss at Boise State, Fresno State led at the 10-minute mark but couldn’t keep pace with the Broncos scoring far too easily against its defense.
Boise State hit 66.7 percent of its shots in the first half. The Broncos had five offensive rebounds that led to 12 second-chance points. They scored 26 points in the paint, which is more than Fresno State allowed in the whole game when beating UNLV and Nevada. The Rebels scored 14 in the paint and the Wolf Pack 18. Boise State also had 18 field goals in the first 20 minutes, which is as many or more than UNLV or Nevada had in a full game when losing to the Bulldogs. UNLV made 16 shots and Nevada made 18. It was not a very good half defensively for Fresno State.
That sets up an interesting week for them. They will play only once, Saturday at home against San Jose State, but who knows whether the good team or the bad team will show up.
This week: vs. San Jose State, 7 p.m. Saturday (Mountain West Network — online).
— Robert Kuwada, Fresno Bee
The Mountain West doesn’t have a Most Improved Player award, but if it did, Wolf Pack point guard Marqueze Coleman would be a frontrunner for the honor.
Coleman came to Nevada amid a lot of hype as a top-100 recruit out of high school but struggled for his first three seasons. He waited behind Deonte Burton his first two years at Nevada and lost his starting job late last year. Entereing this year, Coleman averaged 6.6 ppg on 38.9 percent shooting at Nevada.
Under new coach Eric Musselman, he’s taken a huge jump forward. Coleman is averaging 17.9 points per game on 45.7 percent shooting and for the first time in his career he has more assists (3.9 per game) than turnovers (2.5 per game). During Nevada’s win at Air Force on Saturday, Coleman flirted with the fourth triple-double in school history. He had 12 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals.
That came one game after Coleman tallied 22 points with one assist in a loss at Fresno State (Nevada had five assists in that game). After that loss, Coleman said he’d get his teammates more involved.
“Each game calls for a different purpose,” said Coleman, who had just one turnover versus Air Force. “Last game, we had five assists as a team and I felt we had to change that up and get everybody involved early. But every game calls for a different purpose and I thought I did exactly what I was supposed to.”
Musselman has been complementary of Coleman all season, applauding the senior’s buy-in and willingness to adapt. He’s also been a key in the Wolf Pack’s more aggressive defense as Nevada still struggles offensively if it doesn’t get points in transition off turnovers.
“I thought Marqueze was great stealing the ball and getting offense for us in transition,” Musselman said after the win over Air Force. “It’s not often when you score 86 points on the road and have only nine turnovers. I thought that was a big key, us taking care of the ball and getting a shot on goal.”
This week: vs. Boise State, 8 p.m. Wednesday (Campus Insiders)
– Chris Murray/Reno Gazette-Journal
While much of the attention for New Mexico’s quick start in league play (3-0, 10-6 overall) has focused on the offense playing faster and the three-pronged scoring attack of Elijah Brown (19.3 points per game), Tim Williams (16.5) and Cullen Neal (14.6), the quiet star of the show so far has been defense.
According to KenPom.com, the Lobos rank first in Mountain West play in defensive efficiency and third in offense. The 3-point defense, in particular, has been stellar, allowing opponents Nevada, Fresno State and Utah State to hit just 17.7 percent (11-of-62) from beyond the arc. And it isn’t as though those are three teams that are at the bottom of the league standings in that statistical category. In fact, minus the New Mexico game in which the Bulldogs shot 1-of-18 from 3-point range, Fresno State is shooting 37.8 percent from beyond the arc in three other league games, a mark that would lead the league. Utah State would be third at 35.5 percent had it not been for playing the Lobos and Nevada (31.0 percent) would rank seventh.
And that defense, be it through steals (New Mexico leads the league in that category per league game as well) or rebounds, has been allowing the Lobos to get out and run, setting up a fast transition offense that teams have not yet been able to catch up to.
In Saturday’s game against Utah State, New Mexico led 43-18 at halftime after a high-tempo first half, leaving Aggies coach Tim Duryea to say his squad was “embarrassed” and “whipped in every way possible.”
The Utah State coach, after having seen all of the MWC’s 3-0 teams in a brutal eight-day stretch, also said New Mexico ranks right there with preseason favorites San Diego State and Boise State, adding the Lobos “can win this league.”
This week: at UNLV, 8 pm. MT Tuesday (CBS Sports Network); vs. Wyoming, 2 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network).
-- Geoff Grammer, Albuquerque Journal
SAN JOSE STATE
Another 0-2 week for the Spartans (5-11, 0-4), but with senior guard and Utah transfer Princeton Onwas and true freshman forward Ryan Welage beginning to display scoring consistency there is some hope.
Onwas and Welage both scored 23 points in San Jose State’s 77-62 loss at San Diego State last week — a game where the Spartans were down only two at halftime. The went for 24 and 16 points, respectively, in an 85-84 overtime home loss to Colorado State. San Jose State led that game by two with less than 10 seconds left in regulation.
What has hurt all season has been the lack of a point guard who can shoot when necessary, but primarily take care of
the ball and create — especially late in games.
This week: vs. Wyoming, 8 p.m. MT Wednesday (MW Network — online); at Fresno State, 5 p.m. MT Saturday.
— Kevin McCarthy, Spartanroundball blog
A new coach will be leading the Rebels this week, and a new team needs to show up, too. Dave Rice was fired Sunday in the middle of his fifth season.
UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy appointed Todd Simon as the interim coach for the remainder of the season. Simon, who held the position of associate head coach, is in his third season on the Rebels’ staff. It should be noted his promotion was not received enthusiastically by the other assistants - Stacey Augmon, Max Good and Ryan Miller.
“All of those coaches are great coaches. I think Todd has the attributes we need,” Kunzer-Murphy said. "We have a lot of basketball yet to play. There is plenty of time to turn the season around.”
Simon, 35, was head coach at Findlay Prep for the 2012-13 season and posted a 35-1 record.
“I love this team. I believe in these kids. I believe they were all-in with coach Rice’s message, but new energy probably never hurts,” said Simon, who ran practices Sunday night and Monday and will lead the team Tuesday against New Mexico. “Inherently, I’m probably a little bit more fiery, a little bit more emotional. Dave is a little more poised.”
Simon said he plans to change a few things. Something he definitely wants to do is go back to a full-court pressure defensive scheme, which Rice promised for months before backing off. Rice was coaching scared in his last week, and it showed as the Rebels blew big leads in losses at Colorado State and Wyoming. It was a nightmare road trip that cost him his dream job.
UNLV fell to 9-7 overall and 0-3 in the Mountain West after a 59-57 loss at Wyoming on Saturday, causing Kunzer-Murphy to take the unusual step of dumping her coach midseason. Rice’s run ended with a 98-54 record. Since receiving a contract extension in March 2014, Rice compiled a 27-22 record, including 8-13 in the Mountain West. Rice will be paid around $1 million on the way out, receiving the balance of his remaining base salary ($300,000 per year) for the rest of this year and the three years left on his contract.
His recruiting success never carried over to the win column. Seven-foot freshman Stephen Zimmerman Jr., Rice’s big catch last spring, has so far been a disappointment. The team as a whole has played poorly. Simon is a better motivator, so maybe a change can spark the Rebels in the season’s final two months.
This week: vs. New Mexico, 8 p.m. MT Tuesday (CBS Sports Network); vs. Air Force, 8 p.m. MT Saturday.
— Matt Youmans, Las Vegas Review-Journal
After facing the three teams that are atop the Mountain West standings and still undefeated, the Aggies (9-6, 1-3 MW) are looking forward to playing an opponent with some league setbacks.
A four-game winning streak has quickly turned into a three-game skid. Defensive lapses and rebounding woes have played a big part in the Aggies dropping three in a row.
“We just got to compete for rebounds on offense and defense,” forward Jalen Moore said. “We need to do that for two halves.”
The Aggies have struggled to put a complete game together. In all three MW losses, USU has played well in either the first or second half, but barely showed up for the other 20 minutes.
“If we can put two halves together and get a win, that will help us a lot,” Moore said. “I think the guys will get some confidence once we get a win.”
The junior has been trying to do all he can. Moore is averaging 17.3 points per game in MW action. No other Aggie is averaging double figures in league games.
Coach Tim Duryea has tweaked his starting lineup again, inserting Grayson Moore — Jalen’s older brother. Grayson responded in his first career start as an Aggie with a game-best nine rebounds, six points and four steals.
“Getting Grayson Moore minutes is something we needed to do,” Duryea said. “He is a guy that is going to fill the stat sheet up. ... He’s got to play for our team. ... We’re going to get Grayson on the floor more because he gives us some of the elements we are missing.”
The older Moore can play anywhere from the two to the five. The Aggie coach is counting on the hustle, hard work and attitude of Grayson Moore to rub off on the rest of his team.
This week: vs. Air Force, 7 p.m. MT Tuesday (ROOT); at Colorado State, 8 p.m. MT Saturday (ESPN).
— Shawn Harrison, The Herald Journal (Logan, Utah)
After starting the conference season with two road losses, the Cowboys (9-8, 2-2) bounced back with home wins over Air Force and UNLV last week.
In those games, Wyoming allowed an average of 54.5 points per game — the kind of defense coach Larry Shyatt is more accustomed to seeing.
“Whether it is turning the corner or learning and improving, I was very proud of our defensive rebounding and our ability to help each other and take charges,” Shyatt said. “That’s where I thought we were weakest early in the season: staying in front of the ball and defensive rebounding.”
In a 59-57 win over UNLV, Wyoming was down 22-5 in the first half. It got a season-low 12 points from senior guard Josh Adams, the leading scorer in the MW and who entered the game fourth in the nation in scoring at 25.7 points per game.
However, junior guard Jason McManamen made a career-high five 3-pointers and scored a game-high 17 points. True freshman post Jordan Naughton came off the bench and recorded career-bests with 11 points and five rebounds — all in the second half.
“We all know how great Josh is, but we also know how good everyone else on this team is,” McManamen said. “(Adams) is going to lead us, but we have different guys that can step up and help him every night.”
The Cowboys play their ninth and 10th games of the season away from home this week, and a stretch of six of the last eight away from Laramie.
This week: at San Jose State, 8 p.m. MT Wednesday (MW Network — online); at New Mexico, 2 p.m. MT Saturday (CBS Sports Network).
— Robert Gagliardi, Wyoming Tribune Eagle/WyoSports