Road games
Noa Gonsalves had a big season opener and will look to have a bigger home opener on Saturday night for Utah Tech. Courtesy Breanna Biorato/VisuallyBreanna.

Big Time Road Games Highlight Saturday Slate of WAC Hoops

Road games are important. Essentially more so for schools in the Western Athletic Conference. With the new seeding system in place for WAC Vegas, getting road wins is vital to putting yourself in a position for a top seed. One team in the WAC already has a huge road win. Sam Houston beat Oklahoma on opening night in Norman, which could pay dividends at the end of the regular season.

On Saturday, there are two more big time road games for WAC schools. One is a rivalry game. The other is a statement game. Well, let’s be real. Both games are statement games but for different reasons.

Either way you look at it, the WAC could make a big statement on Saturday depending on the outcomes of both contests.

Along with that, a pair of Utah schools host Division I opponents and both are favored in each contest.

Let’s break down the Saturday slate of WAC Hoops contests. We will focus more on the games against Division I opponents.

Northern Arizona at Utah Valley, 2 p.m. MT ESPN+

Utah Valley is 1-1 on the season with the loss coming on opening night at Utah State. The offense at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum struggled. But, after watching Bradley get beat by 22 in Logan on Friday night, perhaps the loss wasn’t as bad as initially thought.

Trey Woodbury is back for Utah Valley and the season opener didn’t go as planned. Woodbury dealt with foul trouble in the first half and then picked up his fourth foul early in the second half. So, staying out of foul trouble on Saturday at the UCCU Center will be a point of emphasis.

Tahj Small returned to the lineup for the Wolverines on Wednesday in a 91-64 win over Western Colorado. The Tarleton transfer adds leadership, scoring ability and a defensive mindset that Mark Madsen loves. Small has been battling a hand injury but should see his minutes increase on Saturday.

7-footer Aziz Bandaogo has been surprisingly good. Like, really good. Bandaogo had 17 points in the season opener at Utah State. And in 21 minutes on Wednesday, had 12 points and 10 rebounds plus a couple of highlight-reel dunks. Bandaogo has to stay out of foul trouble and has to stay healthy.

Utah Valley should pick up their second win of the season. But, can’t get caught looking ahead to Tuesday when the Wolverines go to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest.

Line per MyBookie

Utah Valley -10.5, O/U 136

Make your bets now at MyBookie and prove you’re a winner

Grand Canyon at Nevada, 2 p.m. MT Mountain West Network

Saturday is a big time statement game for the Lopes. Are the preseason favorites for real?

Two things to watch for…first, what kind of start does GCU get off to? We saw in the season opener against Montana State, GCU get off to an extremely slow start to find themselves down by 17 at the break. And in their win over non-Division I foe San Diego Christian on Wednesday, the Lopes got off to a bit of a slow start, as well. Going on one of the few true road games of the non-conference slate, GCU has to get off to a good start against the Wolfpack. Lawlor Events Center is a tough place to play. But, GCU can make a statement by getting off to a good start.

Second, we need to see more out of Rayshon Harrison and Noah Baumann. These two transfers have the ability to score. Harrison averaged 17-plus points at Presbyterian. And Baumann was one of the best 3-point shooters in the SEC. But through two games, they are averaging 11.5 points combined. Baumann is shooting 25 percent from 3-point land. Harrison is shooting 30 percent from the field and has yet to hit a 3-pointer. If these two can get going, GCU will be an even tougher out than they already are. Perhaps their coming out party happens on Saturday afternoon in Reno.

Line per MyBookie

Nevada -1.5, O/U 139.5

New Mexico State at UTEP, 7 p.m. MT Conference USA Network

The first real test of the Greg Heiar era comes Saturday night in a sold out Don Haskins Center in El Paso. True rivals who have played each other a total of 218 times over 108 years go head-to-head. New Mexico State has won 11 of the past 13 meetings. The Aggies swept both meetings last year in UTEP head coach Joe Golding’s first year as a Miner.

And after a dominant win over a non-Division I opponent in which Deshawndre Washington had a triple-double, the Aggies face their first real test. New Mexico State also faces a familiar face in guard Mario McKinney Jr. who played for the Aggies in 2021-22. At least they might play against him. Per Colin Deaver, McKinney’s status is still up in the air although McKinney would love to play against his former squad.

Mike Peake is the lone Aggies to play significant minutes in the rivalry. Chi Chi Avery played 12 minutes combined between the two matchups in 2021. Keep an eye on Xavier Pinson who became eligible prior to the season opener on Monday.

The matchup to watch may be the battle of the forwards. Issa Muhammad, Mike Peake and Doc Bradley vs. Ze’Rik Onyema, Otis Frazier III, and former SFA forward Calvin Solomon. New Mexico State has a clear advantage on the guard line. So this battle between the forwards may determine the outcome of the 219th meeting between the two rivals. Road games are big, and winning road games is even bigger.

Line per MyBookie

UTEP -1.5, O/U 135

CSU Northridge at Utah Tech, 7 p.m. MT ESPN+

It is the home opener for the Utah Tech Traiblazers. UTU hasn’t played since the season opener at Nevada on Monday. The Trailblazers opened up the new brand with an 84-71 loss in Reno. But, it wasn’t without some really good performances, most notably sophomore guard Noa Gonsalves. The Lehi, Utah native was 5-7 from the field, hit a trio of 3-pointers and finished with 13 points for the Trailblazers. Isaiah Pope came off the bench and had 10 points. And point guard Cam Gooden had 16 points in 29 minutes.

In his Utah Tech debut, Idaho transfer Tanner Christensen had seven points and 11 rebounds.

For Utah Tech to win on Saturday night at the Burns Arena, Dancell Leter has to be better. The 6-8 senior forward had just three points in 19 minutes against Nevada. Leter is better than that and will bounce back. Playing at the Burns Arena in front of a raucous Stampede should do the trick.

Keep an eye on sophomore big man Trey Edmonds. He had six points and three boards off the bench in the season opener. And Edmonds will have a highlight-reel dunk on Saturday. I’m calling it now.

Line per MyBookie

Utah Tech -5, O/U 138.5

Other WAC Teams in Action Saturday

Southwestern Adventist at UTRGV, 6 p.m. MT ESPN+

UTRGV looking to get its first win of the season after really struggling at Kansas State on opening night. Will be a good opportunity to get into some offensive rhythm. Keep an eye on freshman point guard Adonté Holiman in this one for the Vaqueros.

Southwestern Texas at UT Arlington, 6:30 p.m. MT ESPN+

It’s homecoming weekend at UT Arlington so there is a tripleheader with the volleyball tea, women’s basketball team and the men’s basketball team. The Mavericks should pick up their first win of the season at College Park Center on Saturday night.

St. Katherine at Southern Utah, 7 p.m. MT ESPN+

Head coach Todd Simon said the game against La Verne on Thursday was a good opportunity to get some of his newcomers extended minutes. And on Saturday at America First Events Center, Simon should have that opportunity to get those newcomers more minutes. SUU should cruise once again at home.

 

About the author

Kyle McDonald

Love everything about WAC Hoops so decided I wanted to write more about it and cover this amazing conference that just keeps getting better. Follow us on Twitter @wachoopsdigest for information, game analysis and much more.

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