RENO, Nev. — Playing with a broken nose for the final 39 minutes of the Western Athletic Conference tournament championship game, Utah State's Tai Wesley was not himself.
The Aggie leader was smacked across the face by New Mexico State's Hamidu Rahman while fighting through a screen, and he bled from the nose for most of the first half. He had to leave the game several times to get the bleeding under control.
To say the injury affected the way USU's best low-post player operated would be an understatement.
"It impacted a little of my breathing," said Wesley, who finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds. "I think I got a little overanxious … and I didn't let the game come to me."
When he was on the floor in the first half, Wesley was not the same aggressive player. He did not attack the hoop as much, did not initiate contact as much and his shots didn't fall. Shooting just 1 of 6 in the first half, Wesley couldn't help much on offense and was a target of NMSU's aggressive big men on defense.
After halftime, Wesley played much more effectively, making 4 of 7 shots.
MORRILL'S MARK: Utah State coach Stew Morrill was named the National Association of Basketball Coaches District 6 co-coach of the year, sharing the honor with Northern Colorado's Tad Boyle.
Morrill was also named a finalist for the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award for the second straight season and is the U.S. Basketball Writers Association District VIII coach of the year in 2009.
Morrill guided Utah State to a 27-6 record and its third-straight regular season WAC championship as USU finished the year with a 14-2 league mark.
In the 12 years that Morrill has coached at Utah State, the Aggies have won at least a share of six regular season league titles to go along with five tournament championships. Utah State also owns the nation's fourth-best winning percentage during the past 11 years (.767), and has posted won at least 23 games for 11 straight seasons and advanced to 10 straight postseasons (6 NCAAs, 4 NITs), both school records.
Morrill, who is in his 24th season as a collegiate head coach, has a 294-97 (.751) record with the Aggies.
BROTHERLY LOVE THIS TIME: A year ago at the WAC tournament, Utah State's mascot, Big Blue, and New Mexico State's mascot, Pistol Pete, were involved in a "fight" along the sidelines after Big Blue tore the fake mustache off Pete's face.
The mascots were reprimanded and suspended by the WAC. Big Blue missed last year's championship game and Pistol Pete had to sit out NMSU's first WAC game of this season — coincidentally against Utah State.
Saturday night, there were no such shenanigans.
Instead, the mascots were on their best behavior.
NOTICEABLY ABSENT: The was a big hole in the USU student section during Saturday's championship game.
Bill Sproat, aka Wild Bill, was not in his customary front row seat shaking his stuff during free throws. Instead, the self-proclaimed "redshirt junior" was in the heart of ACC country where his fame, kind of like his belly, is expanding.
"I headed to North Carolina to work with ESPN on some commercials," Sproat wrote on his blog. "I wish I could make it to the championship game tonight, but I will be watching. Good luck!"
Without Wild Bill doing what he does, NMSU made five of six free throws when shooting toward the Aggie student section.