NCAA Men: Xavier Cooks soaring like an Eagle

Xavier Cooks led a number of Aussie front court players who were able to deliver in NCAA Division I hoops over the past week, earning Big South Player of the Week honours.

Cooks was again very good across Winthrop's last three games - all wins - with the versatile forward delivering three big double-doubles. Gardner-Webb had no answer for Cooks' all-round game, with the 6'8 forward compiling 23 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists and 1 block in 33 minutes in leading the Eagles to a 77-71 win. Compatriot Jamaal Robateau chimed in with 11 points for the Bulldogs.

Cooks then delivered what is arguably one of the best individual performances of the season against Longwood. He would score 21 points with a career-high 20 rebounds to deliver Winthrop's first 20/20 performance since 2003 and his third straight 20-point output. He would also add 3 assists and 2 blocks to ensure the Eagles prevailed 83-63. Next up, he gathered 14 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks in a solid 84-67 win against Liberty. It ensured that Winthrop improved to 13-3 in the Big South and in second place, with Cooks averaging 15.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game and was duly named Big South Player of the Week.

Such is the season and career that Cooks has enjoyed, he is on pace to finish top 10 in the Big South all-time for rebounds (needs 159 to reach 820), top 30 for points (needs 460 to reach 1,604 to crack top 10), and top 10 for blocks (needs 20). If it were not for the stellar season of team mate Keon Johnson, Cooks would be the standout candidate for Big South Player of the Year.

#22 Saint Mary's chance at toppling #1 Gonzaga just fell short, with the Gaels going down 64-74 at home. Jock Landale was the standout, contributing a game-high 24 points (8-of-15 FG) with 8 rebounds, but limited to just 25 minutes due to foul trouble. Dane Pineau and Jordan Hunter came off the bench to add 7 points each, while Emmett Naar chimed in with 5 points and 4 assists.

The Gael's took out their frustration on a hapless Loyola Marymount, cruising to a commanding 81-48 victory. Landale was again his efficient self, delivering a 16 point (6-of-7 FG) and 11 rebound double-double in pacing the Gaels. He received good support from Naar and Pineau who added 8 points each, while Tanner Krebs chipped in 7 points and Kyle Clark with 5. A trip to BYU saw the Gaels prevail again, this time to the tune of 70-57. However the Gaels earned the win without a major contribution from Landale who was plagued by foul trouble, limited too 14 minutes and 7 points. Naar stepped up with 8 points and 8 assists, while Pineau and Hunter combined for 11 points and 7 rebounds off the bench.

Aussie big man Liam Thomas continues to lead the nation in blocks with 3.8 per game, however it was his offensive prowess that shone through over the past week. The 7'1 center posted back-to-back career-high 18 point games with 9 rebounds as Nicholls went 1-1. In an 89-96 overtime win against Central Arkansas, Thomas went 7-of-12 from the field to also swat 6 shots in playing a huge 41 minutes and having a major impact on the game. He backed up to put the Colonels in a great position to win again, this time adding 3 blocked shots. However Northwestern State finished strongly to steal an 80-78 win in the last 5 seconds.

Baylor's Aussie center Jo Lual-Acuil Jr managed to return to scoring, however it unfortunately coincided with two straight losses for the #4 ranked Bears. Against Texas Tech, Lual-Acuil Jr went 5-of-6 from the field for 11 points with 4 rebounds and 2 blocks, but he could not prevent a 78-84 loss. Baylor would then fall short to #3 ranked Kansas for the second time this season, going down 65-67 in a nail-biter. The Bears had one last chance to tie or win, and were not able to get off a clear shot. Lual-Acuil Jr would end the contest with 11 points and 2 rebounds with 1 block.

After being forced to sit out a game due to missing a team curfew, Deng Adel and Mangok returned with intent to help #8 Louisville to three straight victories. Adel would play well in the Cardinals' 71-66 win over Miami, delivering an equal game-high 18 points with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Mathiang was also very good, adding 7 points and rebounds as they both came off the bench. Dejan Vasiljevic made just one three-pointer for 3 points and 1 steal for the Hurricanes.

Louisville would then need extra time to shake loose Syracuse, eventually edging ahead 76-72. Adel was prominent in contributing 11 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists, while Mathiang 5 points and 4 rebounds. Virginia Tech provided a challenge, but the Cardinals would again step up to seal the win, 94-90. Mathiang and Adel would combine for 15 points and 9 rebounds as starters to help ensure that Louisville earned a chance to rise up the rankings this week.

Vasiljevic had a good offensive game in Miami's 70-61 win against Georgia Tech. Against the Yellow Jackets, Vasiljevic landed 13 points that included 3 from long-range, alongside 2 rebounds and 1 assist in playing 28 minutes.

Enjoying a good season is Bryant's Bosko Kostur. The 6'7 swingman exploded for 26 points (8-of-13 FG) on 5-of-8 three-pointers to give the Bulldogs every chance of overcoming LIU Brooklyn. While Kostur would also add 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals, however the Blackbirds withstood every challenge to earn a thrilling 88-85 win in overtime. Kostur would deliver a further 29 points combined across Bryant's next two games, wins against St. Francis Brooklyn (80-69) and Robert Morris (81-73).

While Louisiana Monroe may be in the midst of a 5 game losing streak, Sam McDaniel has been doing his utmost best to help lift his side out of a rut. The 6'6 swingman posted 20 points and 4 rebounds and 2 assists in the Warhawks' narrow 63-66 loss to South Alabama. In the Warhawks' 72-73 heart-breaking overtime loss to Troy, McDaniel was again very good. He was able to compile a 15 point and 11 rebound double-double that almost enabled his side to break through, with Sam Alabakis adding 8 points, 2 rebounds and 2 blocks. They would then lose their fifth straight game by 6 points or less, falling short yet again by 1 point to Louisiana Lafayette, 84-85. This time, McDaniel added 11 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists with his mum in the crowd. Alabakis was good for 8 points and 4 rebounds in a supporting role.

In connecting on 3-of-7 three-pointers, Jack McVeigh helped Nebraska to a comfortable 82-66 win over Penn State. The sharpshooting 6'7 forward played an important role in the win, also chipping in 2 rebounds and 3 assists. It was a much tighter affair when the Huskers took on Ohio State, with both teams stifling each other, leading to turnovers and some very poor shooting overall. McVeigh would again drain three triples in totaling 11 points to help his side pull out a 58-57 win.

Chima Moneke's scoring prowess was somewhat slowed in two UC Davis losses over the past week, but he found other ways to contribute. In a 78-69 overtime loss to Long Beach State, Moneke only scored 5 points but pulled down 13 rebounds with 2 steals and 4 blocks. He would then step up with an 11 point and 11 rebound double-double, his 10th of the season, in a 72-79 loss to Cal State Fullerton. With the two losses, the Aggies game up first place in the Big West standings and now have an 8-4 conference record.

LSU's losing streak extended to 13 games, yet Duop Reath remains one of the shining lights in an otherwise dim season for the Tigers. Reath delivered his 6th double-double of the season in LSU's 70-78 loss to Arkansas. He would finish with 14 points and 15 rebounds in an encouraging individual performance to give Tigers fans hope.

After a few lean games, Jack Purchase stepped up with 13 points (3-of-6 3PT) with 8 rebounds in Hawaii's 82-61 win against Cal Poly. Matt Owies came off the bench for a quickfire 5 points in 7 minutes in the very strong victory.

Matt Donlan helped Youngstown State break their 5 game losing streak in a 81-77 win against Northern Kentucky. The 6'7 sharpshooting forward added 14 points with 7 rebounds and 2 blocked shots in the narrow 4 point win.

Freshman Jayden Hodgson continued his emergence at Bradley with a fine showing in their 83-72 win popover Evansville. The 6'3 guard compiled a nice line of 13 points (3-of-5 3PT) with 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals in playing 38 minutes.

Sitting in equal first place in the Mountain West Conference, Boise State earned an important 91-87 win against Wyoming. Nick Duncan showed off his play making skills as a point-forward, dishing out 4 assists in also compiling 10 points that included 2 three-pointers. It was the 11th time that Duncan had scored in double digits this season.