LAS CRUCES, N.M. Utah State had every right to be worried about San Jose State entering the first round of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament Thursday.
The Spartans beat the Aggies the last time they met in San Jose, and they also played the Aggies tough in Logan.
It didn't help that the Aggies had a bull's-eye on their backs as the No. 1 seed in the tournament, either. About five minutes into Thursday's quarterfinal game, those concerns had diminished considerably.
The Aggies (24-9), trailing by one, hit eight straight shots to turn the narrow deficit into a large lead in the opening minutes, and they rode it to an easy 85-65 victory, advancing to the semifinals in their conference tournament for the ninth straight season.
"We've had a tough time with San Jose," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. "It was nice to have a little breathing room and get a nice win."
Utah State now faces Boise State (23-8) tonight at 6 in the WAC semifinals. The Aggies won both games against the Broncos this year, including a 19-point win at Boise on March 6.
"I think we've got to amp up a little bit and have a little more umph (against Boise State)," Morrill said.
Utah State's Tyler Newbold opened the string of eight straight baskets with a 3-pointer. After Tai Wesley hit a bucket, Newbold drilled another 3. Then Jaycee Carroll, who led the Aggies with 24 points, added two straight 3-pointers and Pooh Williams added another 3-ball and the Aggies led 22-9 and never looked back.
San Jose State had a similar start when it beat the Aggies, 70-67, on Feb. 18, and Utah State was never able to recover. This time the Aggies buried the Spartans early.
"We got ourselves in a big hole, and they are difficult to play against trying to come from behind," San Jose State coach George Nessman said.
San Jose State center C.J. Webster, who had 16 points in the loss, agreed.
"We came out today and played hard, but they came out and got up on us quickly and it was difficult to climb back in," he said.
Carroll connected on 10-of-14 shots from the field including 4-of-6 from the 3-point line while Newbold had 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting, including 5-of-6 from behind the arc.
"When you start out on fire and build an 8-, 10-, 12-point lead in the first five minutes, that's a pretty good place to be," Carroll said. "They were playing catch-up the entire time."
Wesley and Gary Wilkinson, after being dominated by the Spartans in the paint in the first two games, scored 15 points apiece and grabbed nine rebounds each to offset Webster's 16. Chris Oakes, who had a career-high 21 in their last meeting, scored just seven this time.
The Aggies, who have won six straight games, shot 53.6 percent from the field in the first half and led 39-27.
Utah State did weather one San Jose storm in the second half when it cut the lead to nine with 9:42 left, but the Aggies went on a 12-0 run over the next two minutes to build the lead to 21. Utah State's lead topped out at 24 with 5:42 left on a jumper by Wesley.
"When we got down by nine we thought we had them," said San Jose State's DaShawn Wright, who scored 16 for the Spartans. "Jaycee Carroll came down and hit some big shots, and Newbold hit some big shots and we had a little mental breakdown. They are a good team, so they came out with the win."Utah State shot 55.9 percent from the field for the game, while the Spartans shot a respectable 49.1 percent. The Aggies were 10-of-16 from 3-point range, while the Spartans were just 2-of-7. Utah State forced 16 SJSU turnovers, outrebounded it by five and had seven blocks six by Wesley.