Xavier Thames, No. 5 San Diego State snatch valuable opportunity from Boise State


Boise State entered Wednesday’s game against No. 5 San Diego State in need of a statement victory. Leon Rice’s team, having already lost seven games and sitting in the middle of the Mountain West standings, wouldn’t have many more opportunities for such a result with the conference not playing at the level it did a season ago.

And for much of the game it looked as if the Broncos would get that win, shooting well from three while also working to get quality looks in the paint against a San Diego State team known for making good use of its length on the defensive end. Boise State would lead by as much as 14 early in the second half, with Mikey Thompson leading four players in double figures with 16 points.

But then San Diego State’s Xavier Thames put together a performance that not only displayed why he should be (at this point) not only the favorite to win Mountain West Player of the Year, but also an All-American as well.

Thames scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half, but the biggest play made by the fifth-year senior point guard was an assist. With just over four seconds remaining Thames found Dwayne Polee II on the left elbow, and Polee’s three-pointer was the difference in San Diego State’s 67-65 victory.

The Aztecs, who were ineffective defensively in the first half, improved on both ends of the floor in the second half. Boise State shot a respectable 45% from the field but they also committed seven turnovers while assisting on two of their nine made field goals. Against a team with the defensive ability of San Diego State, such an assist-to-turnover ratio will prove to be problematic (eight assists, three turnovers in the first half).

Add to this San Diego State shooting 68.4% from the field in the game’s final 20 minutes, and the end result is the biggest comeback of the season for San Diego State. Clearly this is a big loss for Boise State and the Mountain West as a whole, with it looking more likely that one year after receiving five bids to the NCAA tournament the conference will get just two (New Mexico being the other) unless someone pulls off an upset in the conference tournament.

But this isn’t San Diego State’s concern, as the Aztecs picked up a valuable road victory with New Mexico trailing them by a game in the loss column. The biggest reason why San Diego State, a team picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West during the preseason, finds itself atop the standings is their point guard.

And it’s clear that Xavier Thames’ name needs to be mentioned when discussing the nation’s best players.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.