TUCSON, Ariz. — The most successful group of seniors in Utah State men's basketball history may only have 40 minutes left in their college careers.
"Come tournament time, you lose and you are done," USU guard Pooh Williams said. "We understand that as seniors. We know that and we really aren't ready to be done yet. We have a few more games to go."
Williams and his fellow four-year seniors Matt Formisano, Tyler Newbold and Tai Wesley have amassed an amazing 108-27 record in their time as Aggies. That includes an astonishing 68-1 record in the Spectrum. They racked up four consecutive WAC regular-season titles and took home two WAC tournament titles to go with it. The only thing missing is a win in the NCAA tournament, a feat the Aggies have not accomplished in ten years.
"I'm excited," Newbold said. "Obviously this is our last chance. We haven't won in the tournament yet, but we're excited to be here again. Not many teams get to come as much as we've came the last few years, and we're excited to play and see if we can get the job done this time."
Things did not go Utah State's way last season in the Big Dance. The Aggies got their toes stepped on and were manhandled by a big and fast Texas A&M team, but Utah State believes it has learned from the experience.
"I think any postseason experience is going to teach you a lot about yourself and how you face up against national competition," Nate Bendall said. "Especially last year with us facing Texas A&M, another great Big 12 team. I think we took away from that a long lesson. It's been in the back of my mind all season long."
The lesson learned in previous years' NCAA Tournaments combined with crucial road-trip experience they gained by going to Georgetown this season has eliminated the star-struck mentality from this year's squad.
"We've been around long enough to know that K-State is just a bunch of guys," Brady Jardine said. "We hear a lot of things about the Big 12 and the Big 10. We get it in our heads that they're not a normal basketball team, but in the end, they're just a bunch of guys playing basketball just like us."
The improved mindset of the returning players, combined with the talents of point guard Brockeith Pane, makes the Aggies believe they have a legitimate chance to be this year's Cinderella of the NCAA Tournament.
Pane has said all season that he is playing for the six seniors on the team. Pushing himself and the team to accomplish the goals the seniors set out in the preseason — a fourth straight WAC title and a NCAA Tournament bid. Now all that is left is to win a game in the tournament and put some more gravy on an already successful season.
"I've been with these guys since I got here. One of the things they said going into the summer was we're trying to make some noise," Pane said. "I just took that with me every day I went to the weight room, every day we went to practice, every time we went to the track. I just tried to give them my all from day one. I just wanted to give them my all because it's their last go-round."
For all the pressure that the team feels, all the hard work and sacrifice they've put in all season to get to this point, and all the X's and O's they must execute to pull the upset, USU head coach Stew Morrill thinks maybe the most important key is for the seniors to have fun and enjoy what could be their final minutes together.
"This is their third straight NCAA Tournament," Morrill said. "They want more than any fan to win an NCAA Tournament game in their career. The best way they can do that is enjoy playing basketball. Throw caution to the wind and go play hard."
If they can do that, there may be more than 40 minutes left in their future together.
Aggies on the air
No. 12 Utah State (30-3) vs. No. 5 Kansas State (22-10)
Today, 7:57 p.m.
McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.
Radio: 610 AM, 95.9 FM, 1320 AM