LAS VEGAS — Down two points with time running out, San Jose State's Adrian Oliver was set up to be the hero again.
In the first game of the tournament, Oliver hit a contested jumper with just seconds left on the clock to beat Hawaii. Against Utah State, Oliver's was not so fortunate and his 3-pointer attempt caught the iron and rolled out. The miss allowed Utah State to survive with a 58-54 win and advance to the WAC Championship game for the third straight year and fifth time in six years of being in the WAC.
"I had flashbacks of two nights ago, when I did make it," Oliver said. "I was happy to be in that position again. When I got the ball on the rebound I was smiling because I had a feeling that something special was going to happen.
The ball just went out. You make some, you miss some; tonight I just missed it."
Oliver, the nation's third leading scorer, was held to just 16 points on 6-for-19 shooting, due in large part to the defense of the unsung hero of this year's Aggie team, Tyler Newbold.
"We have two premier defenders," Morrill said. "Tyler Newbold is a first-team All-WAC defensive player and he had (Oliver) for a large part of the game. Pooh Williams was first-team All-WAC last year. Those guys did a solid job on him."
The win was a relief for the thousands of Utah State fans who made the trip down from Logan, but there were no smiles on the court from the Utah State players.
"We are happy we got out with a win, but let's not beat around the bush — we are here to win the whole thing," Tai Wesley said. "That's why we're here.
We are happy about this, but we are here to win the whole thing and put ourselves in a position to make some noise in the NCAA tournament. San Jose (State) is a good team, but we are here for one thing."
Morrill thinks the team will play better tomorrow after perhaps feeling a little bit of the pressure of being the top dog against San Jose State.
"There is obviously a lot of pressure on us to win this game," Morrill said.
"It was a sigh of relief to get it done. I think we will relax and play a lot better tomorrow hopefully. Credit San Jose (State) because they were a big reason we struggled offensively."
The Aggies will play the winner of the Boise State-New Mexico State winner in the WAC title game tonight, with a ticket to the NCAA tournament on the line.
"We've been to the championship game lots of times and it's nice to be back," Morrill said. "It's a credit to our players that we are back in the championship game. … We just need to get some rest, coaches need to get in the film room and away we go."
National pundits have Utah State safely in the tournament, but should the Aggies lose today, they could find themselves sweating out life on the bubble again. If it were up to San Jose State coach George Nessman, Utah State would be in the tournament win or lose tomorrow.
"I don't care what all the bracketoligists say," Nessman said. "If they aren't in the tournament now, then the whole thing is rigged and it's all a big mess."
WAC championship7 comments on this story
Utah State (29-3) vs. Boise St.
Today, 8 p.m.
TV: ESPN2 Radio: 1320 AM