Louisiana Tech (16-15) vs. Utah State (17-14)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 8, 11:30 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Orleans Arena (7,471) -- Las Vegas, Nevada. Television: None. Home Record: LaTech 11-4, USU 13-4. Away Record: LaTech 4-10, USU 4-10. Neutral Record: LaTech 1-1, USU 0-0. Conference Record: LaTech 6-8, USU 8-6. Series Record: Utah State leads, 14-2.
GAME NOTES: For the first time in five seasons, the Utah State Aggies are not the top seed in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament as they open play in the quarterfinals against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas tonight.
The fourth seed in the 29th annual event this time around, the Aggies have played in the title game in three straight years and five times in the last six seasons but have won it all only twice. Last season, USU dismissed Boise State in a 77-69 final and back in 2009 the team topped Nevada by double figures, 72-62.
Utah State closed the 2011-12 regular season with three straight league wins and finished up 8-6 in WAC action.
As for the fifth-seeded Bulldogs, a team which has never won the tourney title and sports a record of only 4-9 heading into this year's edition of the event, they were one of the hot teams in the WAC with five straight wins before bowing to Nevada by double figures on Saturday night. However, two of those wins came against non-conference opponents in North Dakota and Central Arkansas, so that has to be taken into consideration as well.
With respect to the all-time series between these two schools on the hardwood, the Aggies are ahead by a commanding 14-2 margin and are a perfect 2-0 when the teams have met in the WAC Tournament. Not only did USU sweep the season series this year, the team has taken six straight meetings from the Bulldogs as well.
The winner of tonight's battle will be back in action on Friday against the survivor of the San Jose State/Nevada matchup in the semifinals.
The Bulldogs had their ups and downs, particularly early in the campaign, but in the last few weeks the team has finally produced a series of positive outcomes. But the problem with LaTech is that the team is putting most of the pressure to succeed on the shoulders of Raheem Appleby who, even though he led the team in scoring with 13.8 ppg, is still just a freshman. Appleby, named the top freshman in the league in fact, had decent numbers across the board, but nothing that really stood out as to give reason for this team moving beyond the first game of the tournament. Trevor Gaskins (11.0 ppg) and Cordarius Johnson (10.1 ppg) combined to make 107 of the unit's 239 three- point baskets, and even though the team shot only 32.8 percent out on the perimeter, the fact that Louisiana Tech had 239 triples and the competition just 155 has to mean something.
The Aggies had their troubles early on in the campaign with setbacks against the likes of Denver, Pacific and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, so it wasn't long before they were being counted out as true contenders in the WAC. But on a positive note, Utah State did close out the regular season with three straight conference wins in order to climb above .500 and better yet, the squad won both regular-season meetings against the Bulldogs. Leading the charge for the Aggies is All-WAC First Team selection Preston Medlin who played close to 35 minutes per game and was among the league's top scorers with 16.6 ppg, shooting a fantastic 80-of-184 (.435) behind the three-point line. Brockeith Pane checks in with 12.4 ppg and was first in the passing department with 123 assists for a squad that was average at best on offense with 67.1 ppg. However, at the other end of the floor USU was ahead of every other team in the conference with just 64.0 ppg allowed.
After so many years of being the team that everyone else in the WAC chased, perhaps this is the time for the Aggies to actually take others by surprise, that is as long as they get by LaTech tonight.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Utah State 72, Louisiana Tech 63
03/08 10:31:31 ET