We've went into conference tournaments with a whole lot of pressure and that is something that we have tried to manage and just go play and have fun and do the best you can. —Utah State coach Stew Morrill
LOGAN — It's been four months and countless hours of practice, 31 games — many with several stomach-churning endings, but that it is all in the rearview mirror for Utah State now.
The Aggies' season comes down to three nights in Las Vegas. Win three more games and all the heartache will be forgotten and the Aggies will have a 20-win season and be dancing in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive year. Fall short and there may not be a postseason invite at all for the first time since head coach Stew Morrill's first season in 1998.
The Aggies come into the WAC Tournament as the fourth-seed, the first time in four years they haven't been in the top spot. Utah State's first opponent is a very good Louisiana Tech team that had won five games in a row before being stopped by Nevada in the season finale.
"The four versus five game is probably the most evenly matched game that there is," Morrill said. "Louisiana Tech has been on a real roll, you watch them play last weekend and boy they played really well. They won at Fresno (State) and almost won at Nevada, they were ahead at halftime and ahead in the second half."
The Bulldogs can cause problems with their aggressive defense and trapping style and have been hot recently, but have not had much luck against Utah State. The Aggies beat Louisiana Tech in both matchups this season, a 69-65 decision in Ruston and 77-63 beating in Logan.
"Well the first that you have to do is break them down by running good offense and setting screens," said Morrill. "The way to alleviate pressure is to put a body on somebody and screen them. You also have to go by them on the dribble, I mean when they are going to get up in you that much you have got to make them pay by penetrating."
Being the fourth seed means the Aggies have an uphill climb to the championship, but don't have to deal with the pressure of being the top seed that previous teams had to shoulder. There is no at-large bid question hanging over the team this season, letting the team focus all their energy into the tournament.
"We've went into conference tournaments with a whole lot of pressure and that is something that we have tried to manage and just go play and have fun and do the best you can," said Morrill. "Through the years our guys have done pretty good job of that. But it is totally different this year, I think when you are not in the top two you are really in an upset type of position, you are trying to upset the apple cart."
Should the Aggies defeat Louisiana Tech, they will move on to face either No. 1 seed Nevada or eighth-seeded San Jose State on Friday night.
Utah State played Nevada tough in both matchups this season, losing the two games by a combined eight points. The Aggies swept the two games against San Jose State.
Utah State (17-14, 8-6) vs. Louisiana Tech (16-15, 6-8)
Thursday March 8th, 9:30 p.m.
Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
Radio: 97.5 FM