Aggies win WAC championship, 77-69

The Utah State Aggies hit the jackpot in Las Vegas on Saturday night, winning the Western Athletic Conference tournament over the Boise State Broncos by a score of 77-69. After winning the regular season conference title, the tournament championship was the perfect way for the Aggies to put the cap on their 2011 WAC season.”It’s really hard to win the regular season and then go win the tournament too,” Aggie head coach Stew Morrill said following the game. “We’ve had a few teams do that, but that’s a hard thing to accomplish and I couldn’t be prouder of this group.”The Aggies won on Saturday the same way that they have all season long, through the power of their defense, rebounding and balanced scoring. USU held Boise State to 39% shooting from the field. Boise went 6-26 from three point territory, which was a far cry from their outside shooting performance in the semi-final game in which they went 9-15 against New Mexico State. Utah State controlled the boards against the Broncos, pulling down 36 rebounds in comparison to Boise’s 26. Four different Aggies scored at least 12 points, and many players stepped up to make plays during crucial stretches of the game.”That is what has been a whole lot of fun,” Morrill said. “We’ve had really good balance. They are all about winning, they aren’t about individual things. We’ve got a lot of different pieces that are so important to us being successful. When I look at the stats, it is what we have been able to do for the majority of the year in that we were able to play defense and rebound. Our defense and our rebounding were key for us.”In yet another facet that has been typical of the Aggies this year, Utah State was lead by Tai Wesley and Brockeith Pane. Each player scored 19 points, and each player was able to score and make free throws down the stretch in a close game. After leading for nearly the entire game, but never being able to pull away from the Broncos, USU found themselves in a one-possession game with fewer than three minutes left on the clock. The Aggies were able to score down the stretch, and Pane and Wesley both made free throws to put the game away for good. All in all, Brockeith Pane went 14-14 from the charity stripe in the tournament. Wesley also added nine rebounds, and Pane had four assists. “They’ve done that for us all year, especially from conference on down through,” said Morrill. “They are all-league players, and they played like all-league players. Tai is the MVP of the league, and he showed why. Brockeith is first team all-league, and he gets the MVP of this tournament. You couldn’t ask for more than to have your all-league guys step up. That was super.””Utah State is known for playing good defense,” Boise State point guard La’Shard Anderson said. “They contested our shots but they just weren’t falling. We had some good looks and some rimmed in and out but they were all contested by Utah State.”The Broncos were a worthy adversary for Utah State in the title game, repeatedly climbing back into the game after having looked down and out.”You look at Utah State and they’re a heck of a basketball team,” Bronco head coach Leon Rice said. “Usually you can watch film and you’ll find some holes or weaknesses. The more film you watch on them the less weaknesses you find. “As already mentioned, USU was able to receive scoring from numerous sources. Seniors Nate Bendall and Brian Green rounded out the Aggies in the double figure scoring column, with 16 and 12 points, respectively. Green provided a spark for the Aggies off of the bench by hitting shots and playing with his trademark passionate style. Bendall, who has battled health problems all year long, was a force in the paint all game long. Coach Morrill spoke of Bendall’s gutty performance. “If I talk about Nate Bendall, I might cry,” Morrill said. “His feet are such that he shouldn’t even be playing this year. It is an amazing story of toughness and he was not going to not play his senior year. I was told by medical people that he probably shouldn’t be playing, that he probably wouldn’t make it through the year. By gosh, it looks like he is going to make it through the year… He is just an experienced, solid basketball player.”The Aggies were well represented on the WAC all-tournament team. Pane came away with the MVP honors, and Wesley and Bendall both made the team. La’Shard Anderson of Boise and Adrian Oliver of San Jose, both of whom faced Utah State in the tournament, also were honored.With the tournament championship, Utah State receives an automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament. “The nice thing about this is they can’t keep us out,” Morrill said. “We are excited about that.”Wesley agreed.”In the conference tournament it was nothing but win the whole thing,” Wesley said. “Now that we’ve done that we are looking for more. It’s never satisfying. We are happy we won, we are going to celebrate tonight and then we are going to go win some more.”The Aggies, who are nationally ranked #17 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll, are expecting to receive a favorable bid in the first round. During the post-game press conference, Wesley predicted that the Aggies would be wearing their white uniforms, indicating they would be a high enough seed to be considered the home team. Seeding and locations for the NCAA tournament will be announced Sunday afternoon in the selection show which begins at 4 p.m. MDT on CBS.

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