Tight games mark WAC quarterfinals

Friday, March 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Only one team had an easy time in the quarterfinals of the Western Athletic Conference men's basketball tournament. The other three winners had to sweat a bit before advancing.

Fifth-seeded Hawaii shot 60 percent from the field and hit a season-high 13 3-pointers in beating TCU 99-79 to move on to Friday night's semifinals.

But top-seeded and No. 25 Fresno State was held to its lowest point total of the year in a 60-52 victory over Rice. The No. 2 seed, Tulsa, had a 20-point second-half lead, but had to hold off San Jose State 64-53. And Texas-El Paso beat SMU 74-70.

``The nice part about it is, it's a win,'' Fresno State coach Jerry Tarkanian said. ``It might not be beautiful, but it goes in the left-hand column.''

The Bulldogs (25-5) led by as many as 12 in the first half and had an 11-point lead early in the second half, but couldn't shake a Rice team that played them close during both regular-season meetings.

While his teammates struggled to find the basket, Demetrius Porter came through by scoring eight of his 21 points in the final three minutes to send Fresno to the next round against Hawaii.

``Today I thought Demetrius was the guy who stepped up and made big buckets when we needed them, but that's what a good team does,'' Tarkanian said. ``The same guys aren't going to be able to do it for you every night, and you've got to live with that.''

Fifth-seeded Hawaii (15-13) hit six of its first nine 3-point tries in taking a 13-point halftime lead. The Horned Frogs, who shot just 44 percent, got no closer than 11 in the second half.

Hawaii's high percentage was due in part to crisp ball movement that resulted in a WAC tournament-record 26 assists and several easy shots.

``The fact is they played an absolutely great game,'' TCU coach Billy Tubbs said. ``They hit 3s against man, they hit 3s against zone, they got layups against man, they got layups against zone. We switched our defenses, but we never could get anything substantial.''

Predag Savovic scored 24 points to lead Hawaii.

Tulsa (20-10) took control with a surge early in the second half, then failed to score a field goal in the final 8:45 as San Jose State got as close as 58-51. But the Golden Hurricane held on by sinking 11 of 14 free throws down the stretch.

``When you've got a lead like that, you've got to worry about the clock some, but also stay aggressive,'' coach Buzz Peterson said. ``We've had problems like that all year. As long as we win the game and hit the free throws down the stretch, that's all that matters.''

Tulsa's 36.5 shooting percentage (19-of-52) was its lowest in two years.

Kevin Johnson and Marcus Hill scored 18 for Tulsa. David Shelton had 12, eight of them in the second half, and Greg Harrington scored 10.

UTEP (22-7) got big second-half baskets from Roy Smallwood and Brian Stewart to beat SMU.

Stewart scored 14 points to lead five UTEP players in double figures. Smallwood had 13 points, 10 rebounds _ eight at the offensive end _ and six assists. Eugene Costello scored 13, Brandon Wolfram 12 and Leonard Owens 10.

Chris Neal made two 3-pointers and Smallwood added one in an 11-6 spurt that gave the Miners a 53-41 lead. The lead grew to 60-44 before SMU outscored the Miners 12-2 to get within 62-56.

Then Stewart scored inside, Smallwood made two free throws and Stewart completed a three-point play to keep SMU at a distance.

``They (the Mustangs) had lost five straight and because of that they were extremely dangerous, and our kids knew that going in,'' UTEP coach Jason Rabedeaux said.

``My guys have an uncanny knack of finding a way to win. It isn't always the prettiest or most pleasant thing, but they find a way.''