As the Mountain West Conference season reaches the midway point, New Mexico coach Steve Alford is not surprised that UNLV and BYU stand atop the current league standings.
"They've been there. They've been at the top and they understand what being at the top is all about," Alford said of the Cougars and Rebels, who won the regular-season championship and tournament title, respectively, last season.
"They've got good, experienced kids who understand possession-by-possession basketball in league play at both ends. They're both very sound fundamentally. It's a mindset of a student-athlete that has been there and won championships before. They understand the process."
What is it going to take for BYU and UNLV to stay on top?
"It's consistency," said Cougars coach Dave Rose. "You have to block out everything except your next opponent and then be able to prepare for your next opponent and get a real consistent effort. The team that is able to do that over the long haul will win the regular-season conference championship."
"There's no big secret to it it's protecting your homecourt and winning some road games, which is really hard to do on both fronts," said Rebels coach Lon Kruger.
In Round 2 of league play, now that teams are more familiar with their opponents, there will be adjustments made, Rose said.
"What we try to do is focus on things that caused us the most problems and make adjustments," he said.
"Then we also realize the things that we were successful in will probably be a lot more difficult to get done because other coaches will do the same thing."
As far as the quality of play in the league as a whole, San Diego State coach Steve Fisher is impressed and mildly surprised.
"It's better than people thought, myself included," he said. "I thought we would take a step back, and I don't know that we have. We have some terrific teams in this league that could compete in any league in America."I'm hopeful that when the dust settles at the end of the season, that will be reflected in postseason competition."
Of the MWC's top 11 scorers, 10 are juniors. Colorado State's Marcus Walker (18.6 ppg), Wyoming's Brandon Ewing (17.5), BYU's Lee Cummard (16.3) and UNLV's Wink Adams (15.9) are all juniors and lead the league in scoring average.
"There was some uncertainty in our league, because some of the star players were underclassmen that were now becoming juniors, to see how they would perform," Alford said."When you look across the board at our league, it's really dominated statistically by juniors. Those kids have played a role in years' past and that role is taken up a notch and done a very good job."
Road rulesMWC road teams posted a 7-1 record last week. BYU earned two of those wins, while San Diego State, UNLV, Wyoming, Air Force and Utah all earned victories away from home. The Rebels were the only team to win at home, with a 79-60 rout of New Mexico.
Kruger nearing milestone
Kruger is one victory shy of reaching the 400-win mark for his career. Kruger boasts a 399-217 (.596) record in his 22-year coaching career at Texas-Pan American, Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV.
At each of those stops, Kruger has produced at least one 20-win season within four years of arriving. He has 10 NCAA Tournament appearances in that time.Kruger is one of only three coaches to lead four different schools to NCAA Tournament wins, along with Jim Harrick and Eddie Sutton, and is also just one of five coaches to take four different schools to the NCAA Tournament joining Harrick, Sutton, Lefty Driesell and Rick Pitino.
Players of the Week
Cummard and Adams were named co-players of the week.
Cummard averaged 23 points, eight rebounds, 3.5 assists and shot 64 percent in leading the Cougars to a pair of road victories at Air Force and Wyoming. He also shot 60 percent (6-for-10) from 3-point range and went 8-for-9 from the free throw line. The junior from Mesa, Ariz., poured in a game-high 25 points against the Cowboys.Adams was key in guiding the Runnin' Rebels to victories over TCU and New Mexico. He scored 25 points against the Horned Frogs, including 18 in the second half. Adams tallied 24 points against the Lobos.