The 6-foot-10 forward was named to the second team all-conference team by the coaches – the only Aztecs player on the first, second or third all-conference team or in other award categories. Freshman Jalen McDaniels was honorable mention all-conference, meaning he received at least one vote but not enough to make the top 15.
Two days earlier, McDaniels was a third-team selection in the media awards and Pope was honorable mention.
After an injury-plagued junior year, Pope put together his most consistenc season. He scored in double figures in 14 of 17 conference games and never less than eight, while shooting 49.7 percent overall and 72.5 percent from the line. He had six or more rebounds 12 times.
The coaches and media used to vote together for postseason honors, but beginning two years ago they selected their own teams due to disagreements about the format and transparency of the balloting.
The coaches’ awards differed slightly from the media, most notably in player of the year. The media picked Boise State forward Chandler Hutchison; the coaches picked Nevada forward Caleb Martin.
The coaches also put Fresno State guard Deshon Taylor on the first team instead of Wyoming forward Hayden Dalton. The other four first teamers were the same: Hutchison, Martin, Nevada’s Jordan Caroline and Wyoming’s Justin James.
Both tabbed Nevada’s Eric Musselman as coach of the year, Martin as the top newcomer and Cathedral Catholic High alum Brandon McCoy of UNLV as the best freshman.
No SDSU player made the five-man all-defensive team, just the third time that’s happened in the last 10 years.
The Mountain West tournament opens Wednesday with three play-in games: UNLV vs. Air Force at 11 a.m., Utah State vs. Colorado State at 1:40 and Wyoming vs. San Jose State at 4.
SDSU, as the 5 seed, doesn’t play Wednesday and doesn’t have to play someone who has momentum from a victory the day before. It opens against Fresno State in the quarterfinals on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
Top-seeded Nevada remains the favorite, but the Wolf Pack is no lock with only seven scholarship players (and only six who get regular minutes) in a three-day, three-game tournament. SDSU is the league’s hottest team with six straight wins. Fresno State won it two years ago. UNLV is on its home floor. Boise State, New Mexico and Wyoming are all on the arguably softer side of the bracket with an easier path to Saturday’s final.
“I think there are seven or eight teams capable of winning this tournament,” Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said. “It might surprise the general public, it wouldn’t surprise me. You look at the parity in this league this year … Anybody can catch lightning in a bottle and get hot. That’s what makes it so exciting from a fan standpoint but tough from a coaching standpoint.”
Asked if his team is among those capable of winning it, Dutcher added:
“We’re more than capable, but we know how this thing works. It can come down to a call or two. Last year we won our first two games and played Colorado State, and we had two block/charge calls that went against us. Dakarai Allen took two charges and they were (called) blocks. When you get to a one-and-done scenario, somebody makes a big shot or somebody gets a charge instead of a block, and games turn.
“That’s the excitement of March basketball, that every possession matters, and you can either advance or be going home on one shot, one play.”
Senior guard Trey Kell was named Mountain West player of the week for his part in home wins against second-place Boise State and first-place Nevada. One big reason was his sudden proclivity for assists without many turnovers.
In the six games since returning from a sprained ankle, Kell has 42 assists compared to 40 in his previous 18 games. He also has only six turnovers in those six games, giving him a 7.0-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio – best in the nation since Feb. 14. Next best is 4.33.
“Because you don’t bring the ball up doesn’t mean you don’t get the ball screen to make the play,” Dutcher said when asked if Kell had morphed into a point guard. “I don’t think he goes into the game saying, ‘I’m going to get eight assists.’ I think he goes into the game saying, ‘I’m going to find the right play. If it’s a shot, it’s a shot. If it’s a pass, it’s a pass.’
“That’s the comfort of having a senior … You put the ball in his hands, he makes the right play.”
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