Logan » At this point, unless Utah State stumbles badly in this week's Western Athletic Conference tournament, it will be tough for the NCAA to keep the Aggies out of the Big Dance.
This can be said because numbers don't lie. Fifteen consecutive wins. A third straight WAC regular-season title. Winning the BracketBuster game against a team that today will play for the Missouri Valley Conference championship. Winning, by three full games, a league that's ranked in the top 10 nationally.
And that doesn't include blasting New Mexico State, one of the most talented teams in the conference, 81-63 before a sold-out crowd at the Spectrum. Indeed, USU sent a message Saturday night, and it's one that Stew Morrill had no problems repeating in the moments after the Aggies' win.
"Anytime you win 14 straight league games and your league is ranked 10th out of 30-plus conferences, you should be in," Morrill said. "I don't care what happens next week, you should be in."
That's fine and good. In reality, however, Utah State needs to keep the run going. Should the Aggies advance to the WAC tournament title game, USU should be in no matter the outcome. If Utah State wins one then loses in the semifinal, the Aggies will be sweating bullets on Selection Sunday. And if USU drops one to eighth-seeded Boise State, it's hello National Invitation Tournament.
On Saturday night, the Aggies played so well in the second half that it might take a great game for them to be beaten this week.
Tai Wesley was a beast in the post, borderline unguardable down low. The junior forward, who should be honored when the All-WAC teams are released late this morning, scored 24 points on 9-for-10 shooting, pulled down six rebounds and posted six assists.
Jared Quayle, playing his final home game, scored 17 points, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out four assists.
Those two simply took the game over in the second half. With Brady Jardine contributing 10 points and six rebounds to go along with three assists, two blocks and two steals, the Aggies were simply too much for their NMSU counterparts.
"This team is really clicking right now," Wesley said. "We're so hard to guard right now because so many people can hurt you."
It was a 14-0 run that started at the end of the first half and extended after halftime that put the game away for Utah State. With New Mexico State leading for most of the opening half, Jardine and Jahmar Young got into a skirmish, one that ended with Morrill and NMSU coach Marvin Menzies shouting at each other and Young getting tagged with a technical foul.
"I haven't wanted to fight in a long time, but I wanted to there," Morrill said half-jokingly. "It probably wouldn't have lasted very long, but I would've gotten my licks in."
The win pushes Utah State's record to 25-6. The largest lead for the Aggies was 77-51, with five minutes remaining. And New Mexico State, which lost to Nevada on Thursday, giving USU the outright title, was held to 37 percent shooting in the second half.
"We did it with defense," Quayle said. "That's what its been for us all year, and that's what it was for us tonight."