ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It's that time again. pic.twitter.com/locK9duiRc
— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) March 12, 2014
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Don’t think college hoops is big business?
Just try to watch a minute of March Madness action — any tournament, anywhere from this week of conference tourneys through the early April National Championship — and see if you don’t get bombarded with corporate sponsorship.
In Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Arena for
the Mountain West Tournament, oops, I mean the Reese’s Mountain West Championships, the ownership of every inch of broadcast space — be it television or streamed online as was the case Wednesday — was evident, even in postgame press conferences.
When Colorado State head coach Larry Eustachy sat down with his trademark Diet Coke, of which he’s been known to suck down as much as a six pack per game in the past, his school’s men’s basketball sports information director Dannie Mattie quickly ran up to the stage with a Gatorade cup for the coach to pour his soda in so a competing beverage wouldn’t dare be seen on camera of an event collecting money from Gatorade.
On a somewhat related note, in the second year of Reese’s being the title sponsor of the MWC Tournament, there were finally actual Reese’s candies in the media room on Wednesday. No candy from the company with its name plastered all over signage around the event was actually available at the 2013 tournament, leading to even former University of New Mexico head coach Steve Alford questioning, tongue in cheek, the value of the sponsorship a year ago if he wasn’t even able to get a free peanut butter cup out of the deal when he was done talking with reporters.
PIT WEST: Even during Wednesday’s Fresno State/Air Force game, pockets of Lobo fans could be heard throughout the arena chanting “Everyone’s a Lobo. Woof! Woof! Woof!”
The Lobos open up tournament play Thursday night. For a preview of the Lobos being back in the league tournament they’ve won the past two seasons, CLICK HERE.
BRING YOUR MUSTARD: It’s a good thing college kids collect condiments from all those fast food restaurants they eat at.
While cramping severely during the second half of Wednesday night’s come-from-behind win over Air Force, Fresno State senior shooting guard Tyler Johnson went the old home remedy rout.
“I had some salt tablets and packets of mustard,” Johnson said. “Apparently that helps.”
And the natural follow up question of “What did that taste like?” took the postgame smile off Johnson’s face in a hurry.
“Pretty bad,” he said, contorting his face a bit as if he was reliving the moment.
Luckily for Johnson and the No. 7 seed Bulldogs the mustard must have worked as he returned to the game and hit a couple of key baskets to help Fresno State erase a 15 point deficit in the final six minutes to beat No. 10 Air Force.
COLORADO COLLAPSES: It wasn’t a good day for the league’s two Colorado-based schools.
First No. 9 Colorado State imploded as their 11-point lead with 2:40 left in the game was erased as No. 8 Utah State rallied to win by four, 73-69.
The Rams still led by one, 66-65, with 40 seconds remaining in the game when junior guard Daniel Bejarano was called for a technical foul and Utah State’s Spencer Butterfield hit both free throws to take a lead the Aggies wouldn’t relinquish down the stretch.
“I thought we were the tougher team for 38 minutes,” Eustachy said. “Unfortunately it’s a 40-minute game.”
In the second game, Air Force, from Colorado Springs, led Fresno State by as many as 15 points with 6:36 remaining before the Bulldogs came back and won.
“This hurts,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovish said. “This is going to hurt because it’s going to hurt until November. We don’t get to tip it up on Monday or Wednesday. I hurt for them.”
SMARTING SPARTANS: At least San Jose State’s agony after the third and final game on Wednesday night wasn’t about blowing a late lead like for the two Colorado schools.
No, instead No. 11 San Jose State went ahead and spotted No. 6 Boise State a 25-0 lead midway through the first half.
And then there is this going on in the the Mountain West Tournament… Boise State 25, SJSU 0. pic.twitter.com/3HmtPIrZWC
— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) March 13, 2014
The Broncos’ lead was as much as 42 in the second half before a merciful end to the first season in the league for the Spartans, and for first-time head coach Dave Wojcik, came to an end with an 83-52 final score.
“How about, Wow, as the first one,” Wojcik said in a postgame press conference when asked to start off with an opening remark on the game. “I’ve never been associated with a game or seen a game that we started 25‑0 — spotted them 25.”
Wojcik was an assistant coach on Boise State’s staff a year ago and was anything but bitter about the treatment he received on Wednesday night from his former team.
With tears in his eyes, he praised the Boise State seniros he helped recruit and get to the point they’re at now.
“I have a special place in my heart for those kids,” Wojcik said. “I don’t mean to get emotional. I hope they win it all, I really do.”
Boise State head coach Leon Rice said it was the respect he has for Wojcik that played a part in how his team started and kept aggressive well into the second half.
“He’s a big part of helping build this thing,” Rice said. “He was a big part of these guys’ lives for three years. Out of that respect, we knew his team would come out and play hard. We knew that A) we had to start well, and B) we could never let our foot off the throttle. We know that team won’t quit.”
SJSU actually did outscore Boise State 38-37 in the second half, so at least they have some momentum heading into the offseason?
IT AIN’T OVER TILL IT’S OVER: The Fresno State Bulldogs started Mountain West play with a 1-7 record, followed by a 7-1 mark and eventually entered the league tournament 9-9. So if ever a game was symbolic of a team’s season, it was Wednesday when they were down by 15 points only to rally and win.
“I think it’s funny that you say that,” Johnson said in a postgame press conference responding to a Journal question about the symbolism between the game and the season. “That’s almost indicative of how our season’s gone. … We’re able to battle back and finish strong.”
WHOOPS: One large sign on the marquee that circles the upper deck seating at the Thomas & Mack center that kept flashing throughout Wednesday’s games that seemed to catch my eye time and again was one promoting the league’s social media accounts.
In huge white letters against a bright purple background, fans were encouraged to follow the Twitter handle @MW_MHoops for news on the men’s basketball teams around the league.
No problem. But from the looks of it, the league may want to rethink the similar Twitter handle it uses for women’s basketball news: @MW_WHoops.
— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) March 13, 2014
THURSDAY’S QUARTERFINALS (Times MT):
• No. 1 San Diego State vs. No. 8 Utah State, 1 p.m.
• No. 4 UNLV vs. No. 5 Wyoming, 3:30 p.m.
• No. 2 New Mexico vs. No. 7 Fresno State, 7 p.m.
• No. 3 Nevada vs. No. 6 Boise State, 9:30 p.m.