Las Vegas • After Utah State won big against Denver on Wednesday, the postgame comment that resounded most to Jerry Finkbeiner came from his opposition.
Said Pioneers coach Kerry Cremeans: "Utah State is on a mission to get to the NCAA Tournament, and they played that way."
On a mission, Finkbeiner thought. He liked the sound of it.
"We're galvanized. We're very hungry," Finkbeiner said. "I like where we're at."
After a daylong layover, the Aggies will try to knock out Idaho on Friday in the WAC Tournament semifinals. Utah State beat the Vandals twice this season, but with a WAC title game berth on the line, the game takes on an added weight.
The Aggies have never been to a WAC final, falling a game short in three attempts. The "mission" is far from over.
But it's a reachable goal if the players can live up to the standard they set in the quarterfinals. In the 78-65 victory, Finkbeiner said he saw a lot of things he liked from his team that they haven't always done specifically on defense.
He cited senior Devyn Christensen and freshman Makenlee Williams helping set some of the defensive intensity.
"It really gets to our guards, because we have to set good ball pressure," he said. "When we pressure the ball, it forces our opponents to take lower possession shots. Last game, Devyn and Mak really geared into defense, and that energy spilled out across the whole team."
Against Denver, the key was controlling the tempo and the Pioneer's high-scoring guards. Against Idaho, the game plan won't be much different, Finkbeiner said. Christina Salvatore and Stacey Barr set up a lot of what the Vandals do offensively, including feeding their post, Alyssa Charleston.
If the Aggies have their way, Utah State will be running for 40 minutes. That's what the team did last time it met the Vandals in Logan, dashing to an 81-50 win in one of their biggest wins of the year.
"We'll force the action and make them run a bit," Finkbeiner said. "They're not as quick and fast as Denver was, so it will be more of a tempo battle."
Utah State vs. Denver
P WAC Tournament semifinals
At Orleans Arena (Las Vegas)
Tipoff • 1 p.m. MT
Radio • 1320 AM
Records • USU 18-12; Idaho 15-15
Series history • Tied 12-12
Last meeting • USU 81-50 (Jan. 31)
About the Aggies • Devyn Christensen is tied for 10th all-time in WAC Tournament scoring with 330 points. … She has 1,498 career points.
About the Vandals • Idaho is attempting to break a .500 winning percentage for the first time this season. … The Vandals have won four games after trailing by double digits.