Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
LOGAN — For now, Utah State's bracket is anything but busted.
The Aggies held off a nasty second-half rally from Wichita State to pull away for a 68-58 win and strengthen a resume for at-large consideration as well as a more favorable seed in next month's NCAA Tournament.
"That's a good win," USU coach Stew Morrill said. "That's a good basketball team we played and we'll take it."
The late-night win on ESPN2 should boost USU's RPI into the high 20s thanks to a handful of losses by other teams similar to Utah State.
Now 22-6 overall and ready to resume Western Athletic Conference player with a 12-2 record and three games left to play as they try to lock up a third consecutive WAC regular season title.
For Wichita State, which left the Spectrum with a 22-7 record, the bubble might have burst for the Shockers, which sorely could have used a win over a non-Missouri Valley Conference foe with a high RPI.
The well-balanced Aggies, as usual, did not have a single star in the game. Instead it was their depth that proved the difference and seven players scored seven or more points and a 51-percent shooting effort was more than enough to keep the Shockers from snapping USU's win streak, which now stands at 12 games.
"Like we always have to have," Morrill said, "we had a lot of guys do a lot of things for us tonight."
Utah State's Tai Wesley found a mismatch almost immediately as he locked down position on the low block and repeatedly abused whichever defender Wichita State sent at him.
With a variety of spins, pump fakes and soft shots Wesley quickly scored nine points to power the Aggies to an early lead they'd never give up.
Wesley led all scorers with 13 points. The Aggies also got 12 from Nate Bendall and 11 from Brady Jardine.
Jared Quayle had a balanced game with seven points, seven assists and nine rebounds to go with zero turnovers.
The Shockers had a size and length advantage in the post, but Utah State owned the strength and savvy edge.
The Aggies finished the game with a 32-18 advantage in the paint and controlled the glass with a 33-28 edge.
"Our guys were just ready to go," Wesley said. "It's good to see us respond to what coach had us doing in practice."
The Aggies used that first-half points in the paint advantage to lead by as many as 13 points before Wichita State made a nice little run to close the gap to just six with a couple of minutes left in the half.
But an Aggie stop and a flurry of free throws gave Utah State a 30-20 lead at the half when Pooh Williams dropped in an 18-foot floaters at the buzzer after Jardine swiped the ball from WSU's Demetric Williams near half court with two seconds left in the half.
The Shockers were limited to just 29.6 percent shooting in the half while Utah State closed out the first 20 minutes making 48 percent of its shots. WSU finished with a 40 percent shooting night and the Aggies knocked down 51 percent of their shots while hitting 5 of 10 3-pointers.
Utah State's defense stayed solid in the second half and, after Wichita State made a run to close the gap to 30-25 to open the period, the Aggies bounced back with another series of post moves from Wesley and Jardine.
The balance was key, Morrill said, because Wichita State's defense has been so good.
"We had to (be balanced and consistent). They were not going away," Morrill said. "I'm just pleased our guys did the things we had to do to win."
The Aggies face Hawaii on Thursday in their final road game of the season before closing out the regular season at home a week later.
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