Utah State basketball: Aggies obliterate Fresno State to clinch share of WAC title
Tom Smart, Deseret News
LOGAN — When Fresno State's Mike Ladd grabbed an offensive rebound and put in a basket with 10:09 left in the first half, the Utah State student section rose to its feet and gave the Bulldog sophomore a standing ovation.
Those points were the first Fresno State points of the game — the Aggies had scored the other 22 points on the scoreboard — and the typically raucous USU students needed something, anything, to get excited about.
"It was a lot easier than I anticipated," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said after the Aggies absolutely crushed Fresno State 76-39 in a game that, if possible, was not as close as the final score indicated. "It was a tough night for them and a good night for us."
The action on the court might not have been very interesting in a lot of ways, but the game ended with a celebration nonetheless as Utah State wrapped up at least a share of a third consecutive Western Athletic Conference regular season title.
The real party, though, will have to wait.
"We haven't won anything yet," USU forward Tai Wesley said. "We didn't cut down the nets. … We want to get real greedy and do that Saturday night."
Saturday night the Aggies host New Mexico State — the WAC's second-place team — and hope to answer any remaining questions about who deserves the top seed in next week's WAC Tournament.
"We're not dwelling on (sharing the title)," Morrill said. "We want to win it outright."
The way Utah State is playing defense, that outright championship might not be too difficult.
The Aggies limited Fresno State only 22.2 percent shooting. The Bulldogs, occasionally one of the WAC's most explosive offensive teams, missed 42 of 54 shots and Utah State forced 16 turnovers.
The FSU trio of potential NBA draft picks — four or five NBA scouts were at the Spectrum to watch them, but left long before the game was over — combined to make just 6 of 30 shots and scored a whopping 20 points.
Wesley, on the other hand, dominated the Fresno State post players, making 10 of 13 shots, scoring a game-high 21 points and grabbing seven rebounds while dishing out five assists — all in only 27 minutes.
"He's a basketball player," Morrill said. "You can't ever underestimate that. … He's one of the smartest players I've ever had."
And Fresno State found out that he's one of the best players in the WAC even if his statistics don't always show it.
"They are tough in this building, but we've always played them tough in this building," Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland said. "But we didn't tonight. They completely dominated."
The Aggies finished the game with 55.4 percent shooting and had 25 assists to go with their 31 baskets.
Utah State's 14th consecutive win came without much suspense.
With Wesley and Nate Bendall owning the paint against a seemingly disinterested Fresno State team, and Brian Green and Tyler Newbold dropping in 3-pointers with ease, the Aggies stormed out to the 22-0 lead and were up 31-5 with five minutes left in the half.
"It was just one of those things that happens sometimes," Morrill said. "I'm pleased with our guys; we were ready to play. Our guys played pretty hard."
Utah State held a 40-14 lead at the break, making it look easy in the process.
The Aggies made 55.2 percent of their shots and had 14 first-half assists.
The offense paled in comparison to the defense, however.
Fresno State made just four of 22 shots, turned the ball over 11 times and had only one assist in the first 20 minutes of play.
Utah State had a 19-13 rebound edge, and despite missing 18 shots, the Bulldogs had only three offensive rebounds.
"Defense wins games, and we came out and played really aggressive on defense," said Green, who finished with 11 points. "We talked to each other and played as a team. As you can tell, that really helped a lot.
"Twenty-two percent is really good defense," he added. "We really need to keep that up."
The game never really got closer, and the Aggies pushed their lead to as many as 43 points midway though the second before Morrill emptied his bench.
In addition to Wesley's 21, Utah State got 12 from Newbold on four 3-pointers and 10 from Bendall.
Paul George and Ladd each had 12 for the Bulldogs.
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