LAS VEGAS — Over the course of the regular season, Utah State proved itself to be the top team in the Western Athletic Conference.
After Saturday night's 77-69 victory over Boise State, the Aggies left Las Vegas with nothing more to prove, and will bring a WAC Tournament championship trophy home to put alongside their WAC regular-season title in the trophy case back in the Spectrum.
"It's really hard to win the regular season and win the tournament, too," USU head coach Stew Morrill said. "(I've) had a few teams do that, but it's a hard thing to accomplish. I couldn't be prouder of this group. (There's) been pressure since day one, trying to live up to expectations, but they've lived up to them."
The Aggies did it like they had all season, with their seniors stepping up and coming through with a team effort to win. Nate Bendall had arguably his best game of the season with a 16-point, 6-rebound performance, earning a spot on the All-WAC Tournament team.
Tai Wesley stepped up down the stretch and refused to let Utah State lose, finishing with 19 points and 9 rebounds, and also earned a spot on the All-Tournament team.
Pooh Williams and Tyler Newbold kept Boise State's dangerous wings from taking over the game. And Brian Green pitched in with 12 big points off the bench when the Aggies were in desperate need for some offense.
The MVP of the tournament was junior guard Brockeith Pane, who scored 19 points of his own, including a perfect 9-for-9 from the free-throw line, to seal the victory for Utah State. The Aggies' free-throw shooting, an Achilles heel at times during the season, came through for Utah State as they made 22 of their 26 attempts from the charity stripe.
The Aggies' defense was also key as they held the Broncos to 39.7 percent shooting, including a 6-for-26 performance from beyond the arc.
"Utah State is known for playing good defense," Boise State point guard La'Shard Anderson said. "They contested our shots but they just weren't falling. We had some good looks and some rimmed in and out but they were all contested by Utah State."
The Broncos were a worthy adversary for Utah State in the title game, repeatedly climbing back into the game after falling behind. "You look at Utah State and a heck of a basketball team," BSU head coach Leon Rice said. "Usually you can watch film and you'll find some holes or weaknesses. The more film you watch them, the less weaknesses you find."
With the WAC title comes a bid to the NCAA Tournament. It will be the third straight appearance in the Big Dance for the Aggies. The automatic bid will come as a relief for the Aggies after being forced to sweat out last year's NCAA selection show after being upset by New Mexico State in the WAC championship game at Reno.
Utah State will find out who and where they will be playing in the NCAA tourney Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. MST during the Selection Show. The Aggies are expected to receive their best seed since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, with projections being as high as a No. 7 or 8 seed.
"The nice thing about this is they can't keep us out," Morrill said. "We are excited about that."
"In the conference tournament, it was nothing but win the whole thing," he said. "Now that we've done that, we are looking for more. It's never satisfying; we are happy we won, we are going to celebrate tonight and then we are going to go win some more."
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