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Utah State basketball: Aggies clinch a share of the WAC title

Published: Saturday, Feb. 12 2011 11:13 p.m. MST

LOGAN — Faced with their first loss in over two months, the No. 17 Utah State Aggies got back to the basics in a 71-55 victory over Fresno State in the Dee Glenn Smith Spectrum. In the process the Aggies clinched at least a share of their fourth consecutive WAC title.

"We knew that we had to come out and prove to ourselves again where we are at, and where we have been," senior Nate Bendall said after the game.

Bendall played one of his best games of the season, tying for the team high with 13 points and eight rebounds. With the challenge of matching up with a likely NBA draft pick in Fresno State's Greg Smith, Bendall thrived. Smith finished with just two points and three rebounds.

"Those are always good tester games, to gauge where I'm at and where the team is at," Bendall said. "He's a good player. I definitely tried to make an impression and let him know that nothing is going to come easily."

At the 10-minute mark in the first half, things started coming easily for the Aggies, who broke open a 28-6 run to take a 40-19 lead to the locker room.

"Our bigs early on were not playing with any aggression level whatsoever," Fresno State head coach Steve Cleveland said. "When you are 1 foot from the basket and there is nobody between you and the rim you should score, and we didn't."

Former Lone Peak standout Bracken Funk put in 14 points for the Bulldogs, but the effort was not enough against the balance of Utah State. Four Aggies scored in double figures, highlighted by Brian Green breaking out of a two-game slump by scoring 13 points.

"It was just nice to be able to hit some shots and get off that goose egg," Green said about having not scored in the two previous games. "It was good to get out of that slump."

Despite earning a comfortable victory, Stew Morrill and the Aggies were not in a celebratory mood about clinching the WAC title. While that has been the goal all season, the Aggies do not want to share the title.

"It doesn't feel like we've won it yet," Morrill said about the WAC title.

"A share is good, winning it outright is better. We still have lots of opportunities to try and win an outright title. We will celebrate when and if we get that done. It's not time to relax and celebrate."

The Aggies will not have a chance to fully clinch the title and celebrate until Feb. 26 on senior night against Idaho. Utah State will take a week off from conference play next week with a game against NAIA Montana-Western before traveling out to Saint Mary's for their ESPN BracketBuster matchup.

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