College Basketball: Bobcats upset No. 2 Denver

Texas State junior forward Joel Wright fights for a rebound with Denver forward Royce O'Neal during Thursday's game (Photo by the WAC).

LAS VEGAS — No one, not even Texas State’s administration, gave Doug Davalos' team a shot to advance to the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.

Even before the tournament began, the Bobcats were booked to fly home Friday morning. Any team in the penultimate round would play later that evening.

Whoever bought those tickets probably did so well before Texas State finally gelled as a team last Saturday in San Jose, dominated Seattle in Tuesday's quarterfinals and turned the bracket on its head Thursday afternoon with its 72-68 upset of the second-seeded University of Denver.

By the time junior forward Joel Wright locked up his third 30-point game of the season with a pair of free throws to put the Bobcats up five with six seconds left in regulation, their reserves made sure everybody knew their plans when they chanted, "Change our flight."

Wright single-handedly propelled Texas State (12-21) to its biggest win in recent memory.

It didn't matter how the Pioneers defended Wright or who they threw on him. Wright took advantage of countless mismatches on his way to 32 points on near-perfect shooting (9-of-10).

"Scoring … I don't really focus on scoring, to tell you the truth," said Wright, who now leads the WAC in that category. "I just focus on trying to make sure all of my guys are right, we are being a team, getting closer together and winning games."

Throughout the season, the Bobcats — and Wright, especially — used the word "family" to describe the aura about the team. That wasn't the case in previous years that were dominated by in-fighting and player defections, which is why Texas State wasn't successful.

"I had so many coaches and people giving me condolences the last couple days, because they're (Denver) such a good team," Davalos said. "The thing about this team I’m coaching is: they're a really good team too. We've had ups and downs and struggled at times, but some of it's been getting to know each other and figuring out what we needed to do to be successful.

"This is the tightest-knit team that I've coached. They're not letting their egos get in the way. They followed the game plan to a T. We were very confident against Denver."

Nothing fazed the Bobcats, as they jumped out to a 10-0 lead and rarely looked back. Even though the Pioneers (21-9) tied the game three times (all in the first half) and threatened to steal momentum, Texas State answered the bell each time. When Denver tied the game for the last time at 32-all with 1:35 left until intermission, junior guard Phil Hawkins scored five consecutive points to close the half.

"We all stuck together through adversity," said Hawkins, who finished with 13 points and two assists. "They were hitting some tough shots, but we stayed together and pulled each other together."

Now the Bobcats face No. 3 New Mexico State in Friday’s semifinal, which begins at 8 p.m.

Those in charge might want to wait on booking Texas State's trip home.