Aggie basketball has become a dominant force in the WAC

LOGAN, Utah – Dominance. It’s a word seldom seen in today’s college sports world. Whether on the hardwood or the gridiron, few teams or programs have the focus, talent and motivation to make it through a season unscathed. Those who do are marked like wanted men, with every conference opponent giving them their all in an effort to knock off the big dog and take over the throne. After three consecutive Western Athletic Conference championships and 19 straight league wins, Utah State is still holding firm atop its throne, and will look to make history Thursday as the team goes for what would be a conference record of 20-straight WAC wins. For longtime WAC Commissioner Karl Benson, the feat not only speaks volumes to USU’s dominance in league play since joining the conference six years ago, but highlights the well-earned reputation of Aggie coach Stew Morrill as one of the game’s all-time greats. “I think it demonstrates the consistency and the continuity that Utah State basketball has had, not just in the six years that they’ve been in the WAC, but the previous six years,” Benson said. “I think Stew Morrill has established himself and established the Aggie basketball program as one of the most consistent men’s basketball programs in the country.” How dominant has Utah State been since joining the WAC? The Aggies, who are currently in the midst of an 11-game winning streak, have only lost three conference games at home during Stew Morrill’s tenure in Logan, and have won 24 straight home games dating back to last year. That success hasn’t just been limited to the infamous Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan, either. The Aggies have not lost a regular season game to a WAC opponent since an 82-60 loss at Louisiana Tech on January 4, 2010, and haven’t been denied a postseason berth since 1999. That kind of success isn’t born from a vacuum, however. According to senior forward Tai Wesley, Utah State’s success has come from a combined effort of hard work and dedication by Utah State’s seniors, who pride themselves on game-planning and never getting complacent. “It’s just hard work paying off for us,” Wesley said. “We’ve got a crew that’s been here for a long time, and if you put together the amount of wins that each of us have, it’s a big number. That’s really what has carried us through some of the road games and some of the tough home wins we’ve had, that experience.” Of course, with that kind of success every team in the conference has been gunning for USU over the past four seasons. The Aggies have learned what it’s felt like to be the hunted since joining the conference, knowing that they’ll get each teams’ very best effort. Not that the Aggie players would have it any other way. “It’s something that you want to have as a team, everyone wanting to be where you’re at as a team,” described USU senior Tyler Newbold. “It’s really hard to stay at that top level when you’re getting other teams’ best games and best efforts,” continued the 6-foot-5 guard. “It definitely is a key to our team and our program to stay humble and doing those little things in practice everyday that has gotten us to that level. That’s what we are trying to continue to do.” Should USU defeat Louisiana Tech, the team will break the University of Utah’s record for consecutive conference wins that was set between the 1997-1998 and 1998-1999 seasons. Utah, long the top power of the WAC, has since gone on to join the Mountain West and Pacific-10 conference, but Benson thoroughly remembers the program’s dominance of the WAC basketball scene. According to Benson, that dominance was akin to BYU’s dominance of WAC football in the late 1990s – that is, until Boise State came along and established itself as the conference’s flagship program. Seeing Utah State basketball come into the conference and dominate the hardwood from the get-go has reminded Benson of Boise State’s gridiron rise to glory, and caused the longtime commissioner to hold Morrill’s program in only the highest regard. “Just as Boise State surpassed BYU as the WAC’s elite football program, so Utah State appears to be on the verge of replacing Utah as maybe the WAC’s most dominant program,” Benson said. Of course, cynics may point out that USU’s accomplishments are overblown given the strength of the WAC, which doesn’t have the traditional profile in basketball that the Big East or ACC might have. But for the Aggie players, including senior guard Pooh Williams, the feat of winning 20 straight conference games still carries some serious national weight. “There’s a lot of teams around that can’t get 20 wins in a row, or can’t get 19 wins in a row,” Williams said. “We’ve got a couple of good teams this year. We’ve got people returning from last year who are playing really well this year, and we’ve got a lot of newcomers in the conference. We believe the WAC is a pretty good conference.” Benson said that winning on the road, something tough for any team in any conference to do, proves the streak is no small feat. “Having to travel to places like Moscow, Idaho and Las Cruces, New Mexico and Ruston and Honolulu; they’re not easy trips,” Benson said. “This win streak is not just happening in Logan, Utah. They’ve had to go on the road and win in very difficult venues in the Western Athletic Conference.” While the eyes of the conference converge on Logan as the Aggies prepare to make history, the team’s living legend coach remains focused, as usual. Proud of the effort his players have put in, Morrill remains humble. So humble, in fact, that up until a few days ago, he didn’t even realize the tremendous accomplishment his players are on the verge of. “I didn’t even realize there was a record to even talk about until I was asked about it at the game,” Morril said. “In any league, in any time, it is a tremendous accomplishment.” Not yet even a decade into their membership in the WAC, and the players and coaches of the Utah State basketball program have already established themselves as one of, if not the, greatest dynasties in conference history. Just don’t ask them to admit it. For the players, it’s the humility and drive to continue to set the bar high which keeps streaks like USU’s current one in-tact, and will continue to prove that some of the best basketball played in America can be found in the small community of Logan, Utah. “We’ve proven that Utah State is a great basketball program,” said Newbold. “We’re continuing to get better and have done well in our conference games and want to continue to do that and be at the top.” – USU –

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