LAS CRUCES, N.M. Eight days ago Boise State already had its prize.
The Broncos had locked down at least a tie for the Western Athletic Conference championship the week before it hosted Utah State, but an outright title was still on the line.
The Aggies, who were still fighting for their first WAC title, had everything to play for and beat the Broncos by 19. The loss dropped the Broncos to the No. 4 seed, while the Aggies' win over Idaho game them the No. 1 seed for the WAC Tournament.
Just over one week later the roles were reversed.
The Aggies, thanks to the No. 1 seed, are guaranteed a spot in the postseason, while the Broncos were fighting for their postseason lives. This time the Broncos, who lost both games to the Aggies during conference play, rose to the occasion and moved on to the WAC final, with an 88-78 victory over Utah State Friday night.
"I told the guys and everybody knew it that they had a chip on their shoulders. We took their night from them (last Thursday). They had the ceremonies ready and were ready to cut down the nets," Utah State forward Stephen DuCharme said. "In the tournament, where it matters the most, they were more ready to play than us."
Matt Bauscher, who was held scoreless in the loss to Utah State last week, scored 23 points as did Reggie Larry in leading the Broncos (24-8) to the victory, while also snapping the Aggies' six-game winning streak.
"I think we got simply outplayed tonight," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. "Boise State has won a lot of basketball games, and they were aggressive and they made their shots. When we were fortunate enough to beat them in Boise we were very aggressive and they had a hard shooting night, and you would like to think we had something to do with it. Tonight they got a lot of open looks and they knocked them down. They were aggressive and they certainly deserved to win."
The Broncos hit just 2-of-17 three-point shots a week ago, and Friday night Bauscher and little-known and seldom-used Aaron Garner hit three-pointer after three-pointer. They combined to hit eight of the Broncos' 11 three-point shots.
Bauscher alone was 8-of-10 from the field (5-of-6 from behind the arc) after going 0-of-5 (0-of-3 from three) in their last meeting.
"Our big guys were being double-teamed and Nellie (Matt Nelson) made a couple of great passes and it seems like once you hit one the hoop gets a little bigger and once you hit two it kind of gets a little bigger after that," he said.
The game was tied or the lead changed hands 13 times in the first half alone. After a see-saw battle for the first 10 minutes, the Aggies broke away and built a seven-point lead with just under six minutes left in the half.
Jaycee Carroll, who finished with a hard 20 points, knocked down a three-pointer and Gary Wilkinson and Pooh Williams added buckets in the Aggies' 7-0 run to give them the lead.
Garner, who had scored just 39 points all year long, scored eight straight points with the last two buckets being three-pointers, to give the Broncos the lead for good. Bauscher also added two three-pointers in what was Boise's 16-4 run to end the half to lead 42-37.
After Boise State built the lead to 10, the Aggies got it down to eight on a layup by DuCharme. The Broncos scored four straight points to get the lead into double digits, where it stayed for almost 16 minutes when the Aggies cut the lead to eight with 1:48 left and seven with 1:07 left on a three-point by Kris Clark.
Utah State (24-10) wouldn't get any closer.
"I thought we played with a greater sense of urgency tonight than they did," Boise State coach Greg Graham said. "We came out like they did at our place and set the tone early and made them come after us ... I think that was the key that ran through the game. We set the tone early."
Behind Carroll's 20, DuCharme added 17 points and seven rebounds, while Tyler Newbold added 16 points and Wilkinson added 12.
"We were playing catch-up all night long," Morrill said. "They were aggressive, they were on edge, and I think they were motivated by the game we played in Boise and we just didn't play very well. We've been playing awfully well and we've had a good run. We just had a tough night tonight."
The Broncos shot 50.9 percent from the floor, while Utah State shot 49.1 percent.
Both teams made 28 baskets and 11 three-pointers, but the Broncos were 21-of-26 from the foul line while Utah State hit 11-of-12.Utah State's National Invitation Tournament bid will be extended Sunday evening following the NCAA Selection Show.
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