Las Vegas • There wasn’t much of a silver lining to dropping the season finale in San Antonio.
Utah State missed out on a No. 1 seed and regular-season WAC championship. And no one likes being runner-up.
Utah State vs. Denver
O WAC Tournament, at Orleans Arena (Las Vegas)
Tipoff » 3:30 p.m.
Radio » 1390 AM
Records » Utah State 17-12, 14-4; Denver 14-16, 9-10
Series history » USU leads 2-0
Last meeting » USU 92, Denver 89, 2OT (Feb. 14)
About the Aggies » Utah State has the distinction of leading the nation in free-throw percentage for the third straight week, hitting 80.2 percent from the charity stripe. … Utah State has played four overtime games in WAC play, winning all of them this year. … Senior Jenna Johnson is four steals away from tying for second place in school history.
About the Pioneers » All-WAC guard Emiko Smith is the school’s all-time leader in assists, boasting more than 250 more dishes than the next closest Pioneer. … The last time Denver played the Aggies, freshman Kailey Edwards scored a career-high 31 points. … Denver led the conference in offensive rebounding (14.7 rpg) thanks in part to junior Maiya Michel (10.5 rpg).
"I hate finishing second," coach Jerry Finkbeiner said. "It was disappointing. But we’re moving on, we’re getting ready for this next one."
It may just be that the last game can help the Aggies win their next one. On Wednesday, No. 2-seeded Utah State is jumping into the WAC Tournament against Denver, a team it beat twice in the regular season.
But going through a defeat that kept them off the top of the heap, the Aggies were reminded that they can be knocked off. The seed next to their name means little if they don’t bring the game to back it up.
"It was a good wake-up call: Any team can beat us," junior guard Jennifer Schlott said. "I think it got us prepared to make that next step. We made costly mistakes, we didn’t get stops when we needed them. We’ve learned how big every possession is."
The way Utah State has been winning, it’s easy to forget how rough the season was going early. The team started 2-8 playing a rugged schedule.
The defeats were disheartening, but also kept the Aggies churning ahead.
"More than anything, I’m worried about that first quarterfinal tip," says Finkbeiner, who won five conference tournaments at Oral Roberts before coming to Utah State. "It takes a while to get going on a neutral court, and hopefully you get momentum as you win."
There’s history between these two teams. In the recent meeting at Denver, it took the Aggies two overtimes and a last-second 3-pointer by Devyn Christensen to beat the Pioneers 92-89.
After beating Texas State in the first-round game on Tuesday, Denver players said they felt the overtime loss proved they could step with the WAC’s best. The Aggies recognize that might be true, but they also hope it won’t be an issue if they play as well as they’re capable of playing Wednesday.
"They’re a great team, but it’s going to come down to the little things," Schlott said. "We’ve played a lot of close games, so we think that will help us. We know how to make those plays in the clutch."
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