MOSCOW, Idaho Utah State operated like a flock of geese flying south for the winter in its 78-58 victory over the Idaho Vandals Saturday night: The Aggies were determined, worked like a team, and never took its eye off the prize.
In a game that meant nothing to Idaho, it meant everything to Utah State, and the Aggies played like it.
After beating Boise State Thursday night, the Aggies needed to beat the Vandals to earn a share of the Western Athletic Conference crown and secure the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament next week in Las Cruces, N.M.
And it was only fitting that senior Jaycee Carroll led them to the crown.
Carroll, the WAC's leading scorer for the second straight year and shoe-in for the player of the year, scored 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting, and Gary Wilkinson added 17 more in leading the Aggies to the 20-point win and a guaranteed postseason berth for the ninth straight year.
"It was a real team effort tonight," said Carroll, who was whistled for his first-ever technical in the second half. " ... We can out really hard really early and we got that 15-, 20-point lead and from then on we had to just play even with them, and that's pretty much what we did."
The regular-season title is Utah State's first since joining the WAC three years ago and its first since tying with Pacific for the Big West Conference crown in 2004-05, the Aggies' final year in that league.
"They can say WAC champs and feel good about it," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. "They had to go out and earn it on the road."
Utah State, which has won five straight games, now awaits the winner of San Jose State-Louisiana Tech, who play Tuesday, in the WAC Tournament Thursday at 2:30 p.m. The Aggies advanced to the conference finals in their first two years in the league, and lost to Nevada and New Mexico State, respectively.
Utah State finished the week 3-0 with wins over Fresno State, Boise State and Idaho.
The Aggies, who have won 23 games for a school-record nine straight years, were determined from the get-go Saturday. They scored on their first six possessions (hitting six of their first eight shots) and the Vandals (8-20, 5-11) never had a chance.
"That's a great week for us: Senior Night on Monday, Boise, and to finish up at Idaho you're worried about not having enough in the tank, but when there's a chance to be a champion that's a lot of motivation," Morrill said. "I thought we came out and just took control of the game, and it really wasn't ever in doubt."
At one point, Tyler Newbold (2) and Carroll (1) connected on three straight three-pointers and the Aggies had a 10-point lead before they had a chance to break a sweat.
Idaho, in the meantime, hit just two of its first eight shots and had two turnovers, and the Aggies, who have beaten the Vandals seven straight times, took advantage.
Newbold's bucket gave the Aggies (23-9, 12-4) a 12-point lead. The Aggies continued to increase the lead and got it to a half-high 20 points won a field goal by Stephen DuCharme with 2:11 left in the half.
Utah State led 41-24 at the break, and it was never challenged in the second half.
Utah State shot a blistering 65.4 percent from the field in the first half, and outrebounded the Vandals 18-10, while holding the Vandals, winners of their last two games, to 34.5 percent.
Wilkinson got off to a good start by scoring eight of his final tally in the first half. At one point, he scored six straight points.
The Aggies got the lead to a game-high at 24 points with just under five minutes left in the game.
Trevor Morris led the Vandals with 14 points.Utah State finishes the regular season 17-0 at home, 5-8 on the road and 1-1 in neutral-site games.
E-mail: [email protected]