Utah State may be finishing Western Athletic Conference play against the team in last place, but it may not be overconfident against its opponent.
The No. 25 Aggies lost by 22 points in last season’s visit to Louisiana Tech, which will close out its season Saturday night at home after being eliminated from contention for the conference tournament.
Utah State (27-3, 14-1) is off to the best start in school history and will be favored to win next week’s WAC tournament in Las Vegas. Louisiana Tech (12-19, 2-13), meanwhile, will end its campaign Saturday since only the top eight teams make the tournament.
“You just never know what that might mean to their guys,” Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. “It’s obvious that they will be working hard to try and knock us off.”
The Aggies have won 28 of 29 regular-season WAC games since an ugly 82-60 loss at Louisiana Tech on Jan. 4, 2010. That remains Utah State’s worst loss over the last three seasons.
The Bulldogs, though, were a better club in 2009-10 with a 24-11 record. That was their only winning season over the last five.
The Aggies won 74-57 in the first meeting between these teams Jan. 20 as Tai Wesley led five players in double figures with 14 points.
Wesley had his streak of three straight 20-point efforts end in Wednesday’s 58-54 victory at New Mexico State. The senior forward scored 11 and Brockeith Pane led the way with 12 as the Aggies finished off their fifth straight win despite some poor play down the stretch.
“We turned it over and missed free throws, but you have to win a few ugly like that along the way to have 27 wins,” Morrill said. “It looked bleak when we were turning it over a bunch and they got a lead and all of a sudden, we were back up seven. Guys made plays when the game was on the line.”
Utah State went inside for a 24-8 advantage in points in the paint to overcome 3-of-11 3-point shooting.
The Aggies will try to slow down emerging Louisiana Tech walk-on CJ Scott. The junior guard totaled 17 minutes this season before averaging 15.0 points on 11-of-15 shooting while starting the last two games.
“CJ has been very aggressive and his maturity has been showing on the court,” coach Kerry Rupp said. “He’s not afraid or timid. He stays aggressive during the game and a couple of times it got him in trouble, but I’d rather have him do that than sit back on his heels. He plays the way we want to play.”
The Bulldogs still dropped their third straight, 73-70 to Nevada, on Thursday. Freshman Kenyon McNeaill scored 21 points and Scott added 16 for Louisiana Tech, which shot a season-high 56.8 percent but also committed a season-worst 26 turnovers.
“I give credit to our guys, though, for fighting hard and never giving up,” Rupp said.
Louisiana Tech will play its fifth straight game without top scorer DeAndre Brown, who was suspended indefinitely Feb. 19 for violating athletic department policy and team rules.
Bulldogs forward Olu Ashaolu leads the WAC with 16 double-doubles, but was held to nine points and six rebounds while fouling out in 19 minutes in January’s loss to Utah State.
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