LAS VEGAS — BYU's 71-56 victory over New Mexico in Thursday's quarterfinal opener of the Mountain West Conference Men's Basketball Championships may have the league rethinking its 2003 Player of the Year award. Or better yet, considering an adjustment to its Defensive Player of the Year honor.
Seeded second in the tournament and coming in with 22 wins and a share of the conference championship, the Cougars advanced to Friday night's semifinals at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center by stifling the Lobos' Ruben Douglas — stifling at least by the standards of the nation's leading scorer and the MWC's player of the year.
And while Douglas did see defense from the likes of BYU starting wing players Travis Hansen (the league's co-honoree with UNLV's Marcus Banks for the defensive award) and Mark Bigelow, it was the likes of point guards Kevin Woodberry and Terry Nashif and reserve two-guard Luiz Lemes who helped shut down the Lobos' star.
Douglas struggled to score 18 points — almost 10 points below his national-best 27.96 scoring average. And he went more than 24 minutes through the middle of the game without scoring a field goal.
He wasn't the only one who fared only fairly. The Cougars came out on top despite mediocre outings from Hansen and Bigelow, who combined to shoot 9-of-25 from the field. Bigelow finished with 14 points and Hansen added another 11— nine coming on three timely treys.
BYU instead was led by junior center Rafael Araujo, who finished with game-highs with 19 points, six offensive rebounds and 13 total boards. Woodberry added 10 points, a team-high four assists, three steals and two blocks — including one from the 6-footer against the 6-5 Douglas.
"His ability to defend at the point and at the wing has been a big plus for us," said BYU coach Steve Cleveland of Woodberry. "He feels like this is his team."
And another Cougar who deserves a share of the credit — in the victory and in limiting Douglas — is Lemes, who hit two shots, grabbed two rebounds, came up with two steals and finished with five points. More importantly, he joined with Woodberry in playing Douglas much of the time during the latter's field-goal drought.
Cleveland has no qualms about playing the seldom-used Lemes, explaining his limited time is the result of playing behind the team's two best players. But when those two are "not on their 'A' game," as were Hansen and Bigelow Thursday, "then somebody has to step up," he said.
"Mark and Travis were not the dominant players in the game and we were still able to win, and that says something about the guys coming off the bench," Cleveland added.
Douglas still finished with a line that would make most Mountain West players envious — 18 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. But he also committed seven turnovers and shot only 5-of-19 from the floor, 3-of-9 behind the arc and 5-of-8 from the line.
With the victory over New Mexico (10-18), BYU (23-7 overall) faces Colorado State in Friday's first semifinal, scheduled for 7 p.m. MST. The sixth-seeded Rams (17-13) upset No. 3 Wyoming (20-10) Thursday afternoon 74-71.
In Thursday's opener, New Mexico came out playing bigger and more deliberate than usual, and the Cougars couldn't connect in the clogged paint area — nor could they hit their jumpers once they gave up on attacking from inside.
The Lobos posted several five-point leads midway in the opening half, the last one at 18-13 on a David Chiotti hook with five minutes to play. From there, the Cougars outscored the Lobos 12-2, including two Jake Shoff free throws, a second pair from Kevin Woodberry, a follow baby hook from Araujo, a three-point play from Araujo from the 22-20 lead on a solid feeder pass inside from Woodberry and Ricky Bower's 3-point bomb.
BYU capped it off by forcing a shot-clock violation at the end of the half, in part as Woodberry and Nashif doubled Douglas and stymied UNM late in the possession.
New Mexico outscored BYU 12-6 in the first five minutes of the second half to take a 32-31 lead before the Cougars went on a 14-0 run over the next four-plus minutes.
Araujo started it off with two free throws, followed by Nashif and Woodberry left alone underneath for layins. Hansen knocked down a triple, Woodberry scored a layin in transition, Araujo hit 1-of-2 from the line and Bigelow capped the spurt with his own trey, giving the Cougars a 45-32 lead midway in the half.
From there, the BYU lead never dipped below double digits, with the biggest question left unanswered being when Douglas might connect from the floor again. He made a driving layup with 4:28 to play and a 3-pointer a minute later for his final baskets of his career. After hitting a free throw in the final minute, he left the court on a substitution to a hearty, nonpartisan ovation from the crowd of 13,432.
"I gave it my all, and I'm not disappointed — you win some and you lose some," said Douglas afterward, acknowledging BYU's solid defense and adding, "I can never guarantee that all my shots will fall."
NOTES: The 13,432 that attended Thursday's first quarterfinal games — the two afternoon games — at the Thomas & Mack Center set a MWC Tournament record for a quarterfinal . . . BYU shot 47.1 percent for the game, including 51.7 in the second half . . . The Cougars outrebounded the Lobos 33-29 and won the turnover battle, forcing 14 while committing only seven . . . Woodberry's three steals led BYU's total of nine, with UNM unable to come up with any . . . Douglas had made 22 straight free throws against BYU this season, but that ended with his 5-of-8 performance from the line Thursday . . . Araujo's double-double was his seventh of the season.
Name Ht. Yr. PPG
Mark Bigelow 6-7 Jr. 13.8
Jared Jensen 6-9 So. 7.9
Rafael Araujo 6-11 Jr. 12.9
Travis Hansen 6-6 Sr. 16.5
Kevin Woodberry 6-0 Jr. 6.3
Name Ht. Yr. PPG
Ronnie Clark 6-5 Jr. 11.3
Brian Greene 6-8 Sr. 13.4
Matt Williams 6-6 So. 7.5
Andy Birley 6-4 Sr. 2.3
Micheal Morris 6-3 Fr. 6.0
Friday, 7 p.m. MST
Thomas & Mack Center (18,500)
TV: KJZZ, Ch. 14
Radio: KSL 1160-AM