Las Vegas • Utah State's entry into the postseason carries intrigue, if only a little bit.
Last week, the Aggies swept two road games in conference play for the first time this season. Can it continue? Against San Jose State and Hawaii, senior point guard Brockeith Pane seemed to shake off his year-long struggles and looked like the all-league player he was a season ago. Was that a mirage?
Finally, Utah State players spoke of the confidence gained from traveling to Hawaii and knocking off one of the most talented teams in the Western Athletic Conference. Can that newfound confidence translate to this week?
In one of the most difficult years of the Stew Morrill era, Utah State faces Louisiana Tech in the WAC Tournament on Thursday night for the right to advance to Friday's semifinals. USU has beaten the Bulldogs twice. But it promises to be a difficult matchup for the Aggies, who have struggled to defend quick and athletic teams all season long.
"It's going to be hard," Morrill said. "Louisiana Tech causes a lot of turnovers. They are quick, they are aggressive and they are playing with purpose and a lot of energy. They have continued to get better and that's been impressive."
Utah State will bring a three-game win streak into Orleans Arena for the last of four matchups on Thursday night. In doing so, Preston Medlin has distinguished himself as the best shooting guard in the conference. During the WAC season, the sophomore was the second-leading scorer in the WAC, and for his performance was named first team all-league.
Medlin and Pane are going to have to carry the Aggies offensively if they want to make a run. With top-seeded Nevada likely the matchup should USU survive the first round, the road for Utah State is a difficult one as the fourth seed.
But the Aggies have found a bit of consistency of late, especially in those final three games. Pane has been much better in avoiding turnovers, as well as creating offense for himself and others. Medlin has been Medlin, and Utah State has pieced together scoring from its remaining core of starters and rotation players.
"Brockeith is playing the best he has for a while," Morrill said. "He's been good on the fast break, he's focused and not distracted and he's defended solidly. Sometimes, when seniors feel that clock ticking down on their careers, they play better for whatever reason. We need a lot of guys to play well, but we go as Brockeith goes in a large sense."
Utah State vs. Louisiana Tech
P WAC Tournament, first round
Tipoff • Thursday, 9:30 p.m. (MST)
Where • Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
TV • WAC TV. Radio • 97.5 FM
Records • Utah State 17-14, Louisiana Tech 16-15
About the Aggies • Carry a three-game win streak into the WAC Tournament. … Preston Medlin was named first team All-WAC as a sophomore. … Kyisean Reed was named to the All-Newcomer team. … The Aggies have defeated Louisiana Tech twice this season.
About the Bulldogs • WAC's fifth-seeded team arrived in Las Vegas on Monday in preparation for the tournament. … Raheem Appleby ranks as one of the best freshmen in the league.
WAC men's basketball tournament
At Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
Note • All times MST
Game 1 • No. 3 seed Idaho vs. No. 6 Hawaii, 1 p.m.
Game 2 • No. 2 New Mexico State vs. No. 7 Fresno State, 3:30 p.m.
Game 3 • No. 1 Nevada vs. No. 8 San Jose State, 7 p.m.
Game 4 • No. 4 Utah State vs. No. 5 Louisiana Tech, 9:30 p.m.
• Game 1 and Game 2 winners, 7 p.m.
• Game 3 and Game 4 winners, 9:30 p.m.
• Championship game, 10 p.m.