Feb 24, 2020

WAC Tournament opens on Wednesday

Mike Howells/The Collegian

The Western Athletic Conference regular-season is wrapped up and tournament time is a mere days away for the Fresno State men and women’s basketball teams.

The WAC Tournament brackets are set and for the fourth straight season the women’s squad drew a top-two seed heading to Las Vegas. Head coach Adrian Wiggins and company finished the conference regular season with a 14-2 record after Saturday’s 73-50 victory over Nevada, and are the No. 2 seed. The Bulldogs earned a bye through first-round and quarterfinal-round play, and will play No. 7 Hawaii, No. 6 New Mexico State or No. 3 Utah State in Friday’s semifinal round.

On the women’s side, it seems all roads will ultimately lead to Louisiana Tech, which finished 15-1 in the conference regular-season schedule. The Lady Techsters’ lone loss came a week ago on the road to Nevada. Still, Louisiana Tech topped the conference with a 23-6 overall record, including two overtime (and triple overtime) victories over Fresno State.

Louisiana Tech, last season’s No. 2 seed, is the reigning WAC Tournament champion. If the WAC Tournament plays out anything like the regular season, a rematch of last season’s finale may be in the works.

“We’ll be focused,” senior point guard Jaleesa Ross said. “At this point it’s win or go home, and we’re not ready to say we’re done yet.”

The men’s team has a much deeper hole to crawl out of, however, if it wishes to claim its first ever WAC Tournament championship.

After a subpar 14-16 (6-10 WAC) record, the Bulldogs drew the No. 7 seed and will face off with No. 6 Nevada in Wednesday’s first-round game at 2:30 p.m. Fresno State split the season series with the Wolf Pack 1-1, including a 79-76 heartbreaking overtime loss in Reno, Nev., on Jan. 27.

“We’re not finished,” head coach Steve Cleveland said following Saturday’s win over Hawaii. “We are not finished. And we need to prepare the next three days for Nevada and know that we’ve got a big-time ball game against a team that’s very, very talented offensively.”

Offensively the Wolf Pack have a pair of reliable scorers in Malik Story and WAC Freshman of the Year Deonte Burton, who both average 13.6 points per game. Nevada also has the conference’s leading rebounder in Dario Hunt at nearly 10 rebounds per game.

Mike Howells/Collegian File Photo

But despite the strong play from Story and Burton down the stretch, Nevada has lost four of its last six games heading into the tournament.

Meanwhile, Cleveland said the final week of regular-season preparation has been as well as it’s been all season, despite a three-point loss at Idaho last week. Sophomore center Greg Smith in particular has had strong on-court performances down the stretch, averaging 13.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game in the last five contests.

Against Nevada this season, Smith has tallied a pair of solid performances, including an 18-point, 10-rebound night in the overtime loss.

But in Wednesday’s rubber match with Nevada, Cleveland expects the first-round showdown to be anything but disappointing for fans.

“They’ve had a tough schedule, we’ve both had tough preseason schedules and we both had really good games,” Cleveland said. “I would expect that the third one will be just like the first two. It will be hard fought.”

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