In Cal State Bakersfield redshirt point guard Brent Wrapp’s mind, the Western Athletic Conference Tournament is a new season.
“Everyone has to forget about their regular season record,” he said, “even the best teams in the league.”
For the Roadrunners, that’s a good thing. CSUB (12-17, 5-9 WAC) is the seventh of eight seeds in the tournament and will face No. 2 Utah Valley (15-1, 10-4) in the first round at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday in Las Vegas. CSUB went 0-2 against UVU in the regular season and lost by a combined 56 points. The Roadrunners aren’t just hoping to avoid another blowout loss to the Wolverines. They need to pull off an upset win or the season is over.
“We got blown out by them in the regular season, but I don't think anyone’s really thinking of that,” Wrapp said. “We know what the goal is and they’re just in the way. You gotta win three games in three days regardless of who it is.”
The first game against UVU in Utah was CSUB’s first conference game. It ended 75-42 after a 26-25 halftime score.
Utah Valley came away from the rematch in the Icardo Center on Feb. 22 with a 70-47 win. At halftime, the Roadrunners trailed 31-27.
“It’s the first five minutes of the second half that’s kind of taking us out of the game,” CSUB head coach Rod Barnes said. “We gotta be smarter there. We gotta come out of the dressing room in the second half and play the way we played the first five minutes (of the game) and then we see what happens because we haven’t given ourselves a chance past the first five or eight minutes of the second half.”
The longer the game is close, the more it favors CSUB, Barnes said.
The issue in the first game was the defensive rotations, Barnes said. His players weren’t in the right spots to take away the 3-pointers that UVU thrives on. In the second game, the players were in the right spots but not as active as they should have been.
CSUB’s players got back in transition in the first game, but covered the basket instead of the 3-point line, Barnes added.
The key to more than 47 points from the Roadrunners is forced turnovers or rebounds and quick transition baskets.
“It’s a funny thing because we need to get in transition because that’s the area we think we can best score on them in transition,” Barnes said, “but then if you don't have it we’ve gotta back it out and then make them work. Because the quicker you shoot it, that’s what they want. They want 80s (points) game, 90s game. We’ll take a mid-60s game. But we start getting to 75 points, it’s probably going in their favor.”
The Roadrunners won’t be going into the game anywhere close to healthy. Forward Shon Briggs is about 10 to 14 days away from being cleared to play, Barnes said. Center Fallou Ndoye is “day-to-day” after hurting his ankle on Feb. 24 and will be making the trip to Las Vegas.
Those are just the recent, significant injuries. Freshman Darrin Person Jr. missed the entire year because of hip surgery, Taze Moore has missed the whole season recovering from a broken foot and James Suber played six total minutes before having a procedure in December.
“If you don't count Fallou, we could have four or five guys that could be starters for us not playing (because of injuries),” Barnes said.
Since he started college coaching in 1990, Barnes has never had a team plagued so much by injuries.
“But nobody’s gonna care, man,” Barnes added. “Utah Valley, they don't even care.”
Barnes has to rely on the players he does have to win the game. Most importantly, he said, is point guard Brent Wrapp — who missed all of spring, summer and fall practices with an injured foot. He’s the one that can control the tempo and ultimately the outcome of the game.
“For us to win, I am gonna bank on Brent Wrapp,” Barnes said. “If I gotta bank on someone, if we’re going into a tournament and it’s one possession, we gotta bank on trying to win, I’m gonna put my money on that he’ll play well.”