The most intriguing individual matchup in the WAC this season occurs tonight in the Marriott Center.
Luc Longley vs. Shawn Bradley. 7-foot-2 vs. 7-foot-6. Senior vs. freshman. A guy who will be in the NBA next year vs. a guy who could be preaching to Amazonian natives next year.Wouldn't it be great to just line up these two giants and let them match wingspans and turnaround bank shots? But the Western Athletic Conference prefers its games played by entire teams, and that's what will happen, starting at 7:30.
Fortunately, there are some interesting subplots surrounding this titanic encounter.
There's the fact that a New Mexico defeat would put the WAC-favorite Lobos in a deep hole they might never climb out of. They have already lost at home to Wyoming and on the road to Utah, and a loss to BYU would put them at 1-3 in conference play. Over the last decade, the WAC champion has lost an average of 3.5 games.
There's the continuing saga of New Mexico as underachiever. Despite winning 20-plus games for the past four seasons, the Lobos continue to play below everyone's expectations. They won their last WAC title in 1978 but have perennially finished in the top half of the WAC pack since, whether the coach has been Charlie Harrison or Gary Colson or Dave Bliss, the incumbent. They're always close, but never there.
And then there's Bliss, whose job security is the subject of speculation. Bliss has an experienced team this year, with six seniors and Longley, who some think will be a top 10 pick in the NBA draft. But after a 10-2 preseason during which they lost only to Arizona State and New Mexico State (most of the rest of the schedule consisted of patsies), the Lobos are back in the WAC and struggling.
BYU, meanwhile, may be realizing some benefit from its tough preseason schedule. The Cougars played their most impressive game Thursday, beating 25th-ranked UTEP by 16 points.
"I've told our guys all along," said BYU Coach Roger Reid, "that we're not going to play anybody in our league better than the teams we played in the preseason."
The thing was, BYU lost to those good teams it played in the preseason, although the Cougs usually played them close. Now they look like they may be learning how to finish games.
If they play tonight like they played Thursday, the Cougars may finish off the Lobos.