No. 21 Utah St. 71, Fresno St. 55
Coming off its first loss in 26 conference games, Utah State bounced back in a hurry.
Nate Bendall scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds as the 21st-ranked Aggies ran past Fresno State 71-55 on Saturday night to clinch at least a share of the WAC regular-season title.
Fueled by a 23-2 run to end the first half, the Aggies rebounded from a 64-56 loss Wednesday night at Idaho that snapped their 25-game WAC winning streak. They shot only 34 percent from the field in that game, including 5 of 28 from 3-point range. This time, Utah State made 60 percent of its first-half attempts and finished 7 for 16 on 3s.
''Tonight we made some 3s but didn't fall in love with the 3,'' coach Stew Morrill said. ''But we aren't celebrating yet. We want to win it outright.''
Brian Green also scored 13 points off the bench for Utah State (23-3, 12-1 Western Athletic Conference), while Pooh Williams and Tai Wesley had 10 apiece.
The Aggies were outscored by Fresno State 36-31 in the second half, which Morrill was quick to point out.
''We played really well the first half and the first 5 minutes of the second half,'' he said. ''But I told these guys we need 40 minutes, not 25.''
The Bulldogs (11-14, 5-8) were led by Nedeljko Golubovic with 15 points and freshman Bracken Funk with 14, the third consecutive game Funk has reached double figures.
Utah State has won 31 straight WAC games at home and 39 of its last 40 overall. The last WAC team to beat the Aggies in Logan was Fresno State on March 3, 2007.
The Aggies have won 29 in a row at home, however, the third-longest active streak in the nation.
Fresno State forced turnovers with a full-court press and pulled within 53-37 with 8:19 remaining after Steven Shepp made a 3-pointer, the closest the Bulldogs had been in the second half after trailing by 21 at halftime.
''We really need to string two halves together,'' Bendall said. ''It's a cliche, but practice is the key. It's just a mindset and down the stretch we need to make it happen every game.''
Fresno State forced 12 turnovers but was only able to grab 21 rebounds to 36 by the Aggies. Utah State led by as many as 26 in the second half.
Utah State scored 30 points in the paint while Fresno State was limited to 16 on 20-of-48 shooting from the field in the game.
''Our bigs early on were not playing with any aggression whatsoever,'' Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland said. ''We missed out on six or eight points early in the game where we could have made a run, but didn't. When you are 1 foot from the basket you should score and we didn't.''
In the first half, the score was tied three times and there were seven early lead changes as the teams traded baskets. Fresno State used a zone to slow the Utah State offense and led 13-12 with 10:55 to play.
The Aggies then went on a 7-0 run behind Green's first 3-pointer and a dunk by Brady Jardine. Utah State extended the surge to 23-2 and led 40-19 at halftime.
''The inside game is fundamental for us as a team. If we can get the inside game going early, they have to respect that and our outside shooters get some open looks,'' Bendall said.
Green, a reserve guard who went 5 of 5 on 3-pointers and scored 25 points against San Jose State two weeks earlier, shot 3 of 6 from the field Saturday.
''It was nice to hit some shots and get off that goose egg,'' Green said. ''I haven't scored in the last couple of games, but that's OK. I don't really care about points as much as winning. We could have played better in the second, but it was good to get out of the slump.''
The Aggies will play two non-conference games next week, including an ESPN BracketBuster game at St. Mary's, before closing out their home schedule against Idaho on Feb. 26.
''This win is pretty good, but we want to win it outright. We don't want to tie,'' Green said. ''I think we'll get it done. We've got a big week next week, so we need to worry about that first.''
Utah State has won at least 23 games in each of the last 12 seasons under Morrill.