David Ellis, Tyrone Hanson and Brandon Fields of Nevada watched the final seconds of the Wolf Pack's 79-77 loss to Utah State in the semifinals of the WAC tournament.
Utah State, New Mexico State in final
LAS CRUCES, NM » Prior to the Western Athletic Conference tournament, there had been talk of the conference being granted just one bid to the NCAA Tournament when the 65-team field is announced tomorrow.
At Las Cruces, N.M.
Who: Utah State (23-10) vs. New Mexico State (24-8)
When: Today, 4 p.m. Hawaii time
Utah State likely took care of those concerns by upsetting No. 10 and top-seeded Nevada 79-77 last night in the semifinals of the WAC tournament at the Pan American Center.
The WAC will crown a first-time champion when fourth-seeded Utah State (23-10) faces tournament host New Mexico State (24-8) in today's final with the league's automatic bid to the Big Dance at stake. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. Hawaii time.
Second-seeded New Mexico State ran away from Boise State 88-69 in last night's second semifinal game and will be looking for its first NCAA bid since 1999.
The New Mexico State women's team will also play for a league title, facing top-seeded Boise State in the championship game at 10 a.m.
Both men's finalists, former Big West rivals, are in their second years as WAC members. Utah State, which eliminated Hawaii in the quarterfinals on Thursday, is playing in the title game for the second straight year.
Nevada (28-4), the regular-season winner and defending tournament champion, has been ranked in the national polls all season, breaking into the top 10, and is expected to be given an at-large bid to its fourth straight NCAA Tournament.
Utah State's win yesterday could be a boon for the rest of the conference. WAC commissioner Karl Benson put the ultimate financial impact of each NCAA Tournament berth for the league at roughly $1 million.
The proceeds are divided among the nine league members, with participating schools also receiving a $50,000 bonus for each tournament game. Just once since 1983 has the WAC failed to place at least two teams in the NCAA Tournament.
Before the start of the WAC tournament, the Wolf Pack looked like a lock for an NCAA berth regardless of its finish, with Utah State and New Mexico State on the proverbial bubble.
"Maybe it's good for the league, because we'll get two teams in," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said after seeing his team comeback from a seven-point second-half deficit. "Because Nevada will be in the NCAA Tournament."
Utah State defeated Nevada twice in an eight-day span, but Morrill brushed aside thoughts of a second-straight at-large bid if the Aggies fail to take the title today.
"We need to win the tournament, that's what we need to worry about," Morrill said.
Wolf Pack coach Mark Fox said the extra rest could benefit the team heading into the NCAAs, "but we're still not happy about going home."
A sequence near the game's conclusion was similar to Nevada's win over Hawaii in Reno on Feb. 3. In that game, UH's Ahmet Gueye tossed in a wild shot in the final seconds while being fouled. After a discussion by the officials, the basket was ultimately taken off the board, a UH putback went in just after the buzzer and Nevada escaped with a 69-68 win.
Last night, Nevada erased a five-point deficit in the final minute when guard Marcelus Kemp hit a leaning 3-pointer, and after a time out, stole the inbounds pass and hit a jumper in the lane to knot the game at 77 with 19 seconds left.
On Utah State's final possession, Aggie forward Chaz Spicer threw in a shot while falling to the court. But he was ruled to have been fouled before the shot and the basket was waved off. Spicer then made two free throws and Nevada guard Ramon Sessions' desperation 3-pointer came up short to end the game.
Spicer, who made two free throws to seal Utah State's overtime win over Nevada last week in Logan, finished with 20 points and guard Jaycee Carroll poured in 24 for the second straight game. Durrall Peterson made four 3-pointers.
Kemp paced Nevada with 24 points and All-America candidate Nick Fazekas finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but attempted only three shots in the second half.