LA Tech Defends First Place

Utah St. & NMSU are tied for 2nd (Eli Lucero-AP)

Louisiana Tech hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991, but the Bulldogs were making their case on a couple of different fronts.

First of all, they entered the week, leading the WAC with a 6-1 record. Winning the regular-season title doesn't guarantee anything, but Louisiana Tech has gone deep enough into the season to establish itself as a legit threat to win the conference tournament in Reno, Nev.

But if the Bulldogs fall short of achieving the league's automatic bid, could they earn an at-large berth.

"You're going to have to finish up very high in the conference, and I think you're going to have to go deep into the conference tournament," coach Kerry Rupp said in the Monroe News-Star.

For sure, the margin of error would be slim. Tech couldn't afford many stumbles. There is no "bad" nonconference loss on its resume (at New Mexico, at Arizona), but there also are no signature victories.

Still, the Bulldogs entered the week with an 18-3 overall record and would reach the high 20s in victories if they keep up their pace. That kind of record would at least put them in the discussion if they, say, lost in the WAC tournament final.

With such a poor strength of schedule, the Bulldogs will need to draw a great opponent for the BracketBuster event in late February ... and then win the game.

"I think all that stuff comes out at the end of the day," Rupp said in the News-Star. "I think we got off to a tremendous start in the league, but again, that's just a tremendous start."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Louisiana Tech suffered its first conference loss of the season, 87-76 at San Jose State on Jan. 21 as the Spartans' Adrian Oliver went off for a career-high 39 points. That ended the Bulldogs' 10-game winning streak.

--Louisiana Tech held Hawaii to 1-of-13 shooting from 3-point range in a 65-60 victory over the Warriors on Jan. 23. Hawaii was without G Dwain Williams, and the Bulldogs used their athleticism to smother Hawaii's other shooters. "That was huge," Tech coach Kerry Rupp said. "Staying on their shooters, pressuring them, shutting them down outside was key for us."

ON THE SPOT: Sophomore F Olu Ashaolu is an athletic, high-energy player who is one of the brightest underclass stars in the WAC. He averages 11.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game ... but is the guy you want on the floor at the end of a close game? Through Jan. 23, he was hitting less than half of his free throw attempts (44 of 90), so he definitely has something to work on after practice.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's really been a three-year process. What we wanted from the start was to come in here and lay the foundation to establish a good, solid program, do the right things on and off the court, and get the right guys in here." -- Third-year Tech coach Kerry Rupp, on New Orleans.com.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SEASON RECAP: A soft nonconference schedule allowed the Bulldogs to build a gaudy record as they took care of business but couldn't pull off upsets at New Mexico or Arizona. A strong senior core has helped make the difference in the WAC, while the addition of DeAndre Brown at point guard was the missing play-maker piece. The starters log heavy minutes and each averages double-digit points, with G Kyle Gibson giving the team a super go-to guy.

PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- PG DeAndre Brown, SG Kyle Gibson, SF Jamel Guyton, PF Olu Ashaolu, C Magnum Rolle. Key Subs -- F David Jackson, F Darius Redding, G Yonas Berhe, G Anson Bartlett.

GAME REVIEW: Louisiana Tech 81, Fresno State 73 San Jose State 87, Louisiana Tech 76 Louisiana Tech 65, Hawaii 60

GAME PREVIEW: vs. New Mexico State, Saturday, Jan. 30 vs. San Jose State, Thursday, Feb. 4 at New Mexico State, Monday, Feb. 8 vs. Hawaii, Saturday, Feb. 13 at Utah State, Wednesday, Feb. 17

IN FOCUS: The two games in 10 games against New Mexico State will have a big impact on the top of the league race, as Tech enters the week at 6-1 in the league with the Aggies tied for second at 5-2. This will match two of the most athletic teams in the league, and neither team uses much bench, so it could be a battle of attrition. Tech G Kyle Gibson (21.6 points) and NMSU's perimeter scorers Jahmar Young (21.3) and Johnathan Gibson (19.3) should light up the scoreboard.

ROSTER REPORT: --C Magnum Rolle had 23 points and tied a career high with 17 rebounds at Hawaii on Jan. 23. "He was a just a force; he was a big force," said Hawaii coach Bob Nash.

--Senior G Kyle Gibson had a streak of 21 consecutive made free throws end Jan. 21 at San Jose State. He was 8 of 12 from the line at Hawaii on Jan. 23 in what was an off shooting night from everywhere for Gibson.

--Senior G Jamel Guyton recorded his first career double-double at Hawaii on Jan. 23. Guyton pulled down a career-best 10 rebounds to go with 14 points.

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