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Utah State avoids bubble


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POSTED: Sunday, March 15, 2009

RENO, Nev. » You can bet Utah State coach Stew Morrill got a good night's sleep.

Instead of thinking about nonconference schedules, RPIs and bubbles, all Morrill had to worry about was where his Aggies will play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Utah State erased any conversation about whether 29 wins would be good enough to earn an at-large bid by beating Nevada 72-62 to claim the Western Athletic Conference men's tournament championship last night at the Lawlor Events Center.

More importantly, the win brings with it an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament that begins Thursday.

“;You know what, we're in and it's a wonderful feeling,”; Morrill said. “;For this team to win the regular season and the conference tournament, especially on (Nevada's) home court, it's just unbelievable.”;

The Aggies reached the 30-win mark for the first time in school history by avenging a loss two weeks earlier to the same Wolf Pack team.

Gary Wilkinson, named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, scored a game-high 21 points, but had plenty of help around him. Jared Quayle poured in 15 points and 10 rebounds and Tai Wesley had 14 points and 11 boards as the Aggies never trailed.

“;We got outplayed,”; Nevada coach Mark Fox said. “;We started poorly. We had a lot of little easy looks at the basket that we did not finish.”;

Utah State made the tournament final for the third time in its four years as a member of the WAC and, like the previous two instances, found itself playing against the host team.

The Aggies took the home crowd out of the game with a 13-0 run to start. A jumper from Wilkinson gave Utah State a 21-4 lead, but Nevada cut the deficit to five, finishing the half on a 19-7 run.

A dunk by Armon Johnson pulled the Wolf Pack within four before Utah State built its lead back up to as many as 19.

Johnson finished 7-for-21 from the field and scored 12 of his team-high 20 points in the final 2 minutes after Utah State had the game in hand.

“;I feel like I let my team down tonight,”; Johnson said. “;It's very frustrating.”;

Pooh Williams, who also finished in double figures with 12 points, put the exclamation point on the game with an alley-oop dunk with 57 seconds remaining.

That got Utah State's student section ready to charge the court, which they did as the clock ran out, giving the Aggies their first WAC tournament championship.

“;When it comes down to it, you have to step up and make it happen on the court,”; Wilkinson said. “;There's no better feeling in the world than to be able to not have to say a word and go out and play a game and let that speak for us.”;

 

WAC WOMEN

Fresno State 56, Nevada 49

The Wolf Pack went 0-for-2 on their home court yesterday as top-seeded Fresno State beat Nevada 56-49 to claim its second straight WAC women's basketball tournament championship.

Jaleesa Ross scored a game-high 22 points and Joh-Teena Filipe added 12 points and 14 rebounds for the Bulldogs (24-8).

Ross scored 13 of her 22 points in the first half as Fresno State built a 31-20 halftime lead.

Megan Cherry scored 10 points for the Wolf Pack, who gave up 26 offensive rebounds and lost despite holding the Bulldogs to 31 percent (21-for-67) shooting.