There was a time during the 2021-22 season when ACU won 11 straight games. Yes, you read that correctly. The Wildcats knew how to win consecutive games. However, ACU also knew how to lose consecutive games as the Wildcats followed up the 11-game win streak with a five-game losing streak.
And following that five-game losing streak, the Wildcats won six straight games. ACU finally flattened the curve a bit with an overtime loss at Sam Houston followed by a home win against Lamar.
But, this top story, No. 10 on the list, from 2022 starts on March 9 in Las Vegas.
ACU knows how to win tournament games. That was evident in 2020-21 when the Wildcats won a pair of games to win the Southland Conference Tournament. And then, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as a 14-seed, beat 3-seed Texas thanks to a pair of Joe Pleasant free throws.
But, in a new conference, at a new tournament venue, success might not have come as quickly as it did.
And in all reality, things didn’t necessarily start out as ACU would have hoped in its first WAC Tournament game. Fardaws Aimaq and Utah Valley took a 41-37 lead into the halftime break. But, just like the Wildcats did in Orem two months prior, ACU shot the lights out in the second half.
The Wildcats shot 61 percent from 3-point range and outscored the Wolverines, 45-33, in the second half. And as usual, the Wildcats forced 21 turnovers in the second round win.
The ability of Airion Simmons and Cam Steele to shoot from the perimeter hurt the Wolverines once again. And ACU’s chaotic style of play moved the Wildcats into the quarterfinals to meet a familiar foe.
Big First Half Leads ACU to Semis
SFA and ACU have a lot of history. First off, Brette Tanner was an assistant at SFA under Brad Underwood. Assistant coach Antonio Bostic played at SFA under former head coach Danny Kaspar. And the Jacks and Wildcats had recent trips to the NCAA Tournament and NCAA Tournament wins under their belts.
SFA had beat ACU twice in the regular season. In fact, it was SFA who snapped ACU’s 11-game winning streak and 21-game home winning streak at the Teague Center.
And in its final road game of the regular season, ACU lost on a Day Day Hall buzzer-beater in Nacogdoches.
So, third time was the charm for ACU.
Mahki Morris and Coryon Mason were the only Wildcats in double figures with 22 and 12 points, respectively, in the 76-62 win.
22 turnovers and shooting 53 percent from the field will do wonders for a team.
ACU shot 54 percent in the first half and 52 percent in the second half. Meanwhile, the Wildcats held SFA to just 29.63 percent shooting in the second half and 18 percent from 3-point distance.
Considering it took place on back-to-back nights, against the 3-seeded Jacks who had swept the season series, you can see how impressive it was.
Wildcats Advance to Title Game
Three games in three nights. That’s the first thing ACU was up against in the WAC semifinals. Playing the 2-seed Seattle U Redhawks and Darrion Trammell was the second thing ACU was up against. Getting payback for a home loss in January to the Redhawks was the third thing.
Add in that former head coach Joe Golding was in attendance and you can see there might have been some added pressure on the Wildcats to advance to Saturday’s title game.
But, that didn’t matter in the least to Airion Simmons, Tobias cameron and the rest of the Wildcats. Simmons had 21 points, Cameron had 18 points and ACU advanced with a 78-76 win over the Redhawks.
Despite Darrion Trammell going for a game-high 39 points, ACU was able to survive and advance.
NMSU Just Too Much
Perhaps it was not having the legs after playing three games in three days. Perhaps it was playing the 1-, 2-, and 3-seeds on consecutive days.
Or, maybe it was simply a case of facing a team with a massive chip on its shoulder. Whatever it was, a special run by the Wildcats came to an end on Saturday night at the Orleans Arena.
ACU never found its offensive footing against the Aggies in a 66-52 loss to end an impressive tourney run.
New Mexico State had four players in double figures led by Clayton Henry’s 15 points. Coryon Mason and Mahki Morris had 14 and 12 points for ACU. Airion Simmons also had 12 points for the Wildcats who shot just under 33 percent from the field. ACU also struggled to knock down an outside shot, going 6-22 from 3-point land.
Winning three games in three days is impressive. And, had it been anyone else besides New Mexico State, it might have been ACU representing the WAC at the NCAA Tournament.