LOGAN — The heavy breathing coming from the Utah State locker room Sunday afternoon wasn't exclusively the result of having to nervously wait for the final few NCAA Tournament teams to be announced.
No, the Aggies were a little breathless because after a flight delay returning from the Western Athletic Conference tournament in Reno and literally ran from the team bus into the locker room hoping to see their name pop up on the television screen.
"We missed the first bracket," USU coach Stew Morrrill said. "Then, we had to just watch it from there."
And watch, and watch, and watch.
Finally, as team after team was announced Utah State showed up and the Aggies exhaled.
"We had this overwhelming feeling of despair," Aggie forward Tai Wesley said of the mood in the locker room as the brackets kept showing up on the screen without Utah State listed. "We really thought we were out after the first brackets were out."
But USU was not out. Instead, the Aggies will face Texas A&M Friday in Spokane.
"Well they made us sweat it, number one that was pretty tense in our locker room," Morrill said. "We wanted to do a private function for that very reason. You just never know."
Utah State, 27-7, had plenty of reason to be nervous. Virtually every bracket projection on the Internet had the Aggies as a 'lock' before Saturday's loss to New Mexico State. After the loss, however, USU became one of the most debated bubble teams in the country with the pundits ready to pop the Aggie bubble in favor of teams like Virginia Tech, Mississippi State or Illinois.
"We are just so thrilled and elated that our 17-game winning streak, our regular season championship, winning the WAC by a three-game margin, was rewarded," Morrill said. "When you look at eight teams from non-BCS conferences getting at-large bids it is a big step up from last year when there were only four. I think that is extremely positive for leagues like the WAC and schools like Utah State."
Now that the anticipation, worry and relief has past, Utah State will get down to preparing for the Friday game.
And after last season's 1-point loss to Marquette, the Aggies say they won't be quite the same 'star-struck' team they were 12 months ago.
"I don't think that will be the case this year," Wesley said. "We're feeling like we belong and we'll approach the game that way."
Texas A&M, of course, will be a pretty stiff test — just ask BYU. But USU hopes they'll be ready.
The loss Saturday night, Aggie players said, will help and not hurt them as they prepare.
"Most definitely," Wesley said. "We want that game back. We want a chance to prove we're better than (Saturday) night and prove that on a bigger stage."
Utah State point guard Jared Quayle is also grateful for another chance to end the season in a more palatable way.
"We do have that bitter taste in our mouths," USU's only senior said. " It's my last year playing basketball here at Utah State and I couldn't ask for more; we've had a great year.
"We deserve to be in the tournament. We're going to work hard and have a good week of practice and we're going to go into Friday's game with a lot of excitement and play our hardest," he added. "We're going to do what we can to keep this going."
Mostly, though, the Aggies are just glad it is still going after a nervous night and morning of wondering.
"I'm just overwhelmed, I almost couldn't keep my emotions in check," Wesley said. "When we saw that we were going back into the NCAA Tournament it just feels really good. Our hard work is paying off."
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