Utah St.-New Mexico St. Preview
Heading into the final week of the regular season, Utah State already has locked up a school-record fourth consecutive Western Athletic Conference regular-season title.
Still, coach Stew Morrill knows this isn't the time for his team to let up, especially with a matchup in Las Cruces next on the schedule.
Back in the rankings after a one-week absence, No. 25 Utah State tries to win its fifth straight Wednesday night and spoil stumbling New Mexico State's chances of becoming the other team to earn a double-bye in the conference tournament.
Utah State (26-3, 13-1) already has a bye into the semifinals next week in Las Vegas, having wrapped up the No. 1 seed, and finished with a perfect home record in WAC play for the fourth straight season with Saturday's 84-68 victory over Idaho.
Morrill, though, sees plenty of challenges in this game even though New Mexico State (14-15, 8-6) has lost three straight.
"New Mexico State is undefeated at home (6-0) this season, in conference play, and they get really juiced up when they play us," Morrill said. "The fact that we have won the regular season, some of the past history we have with them, and the fact that they beat us in the tournament last season, I am sure they will be ready to go."
New Mexico State, which defeated Utah State in the 2010 WAC tournament title game after losing its final two regular-season games, must win this contest and Saturday's matchup with Nevada to grab the No. 2 seed and the other double-bye.
Coach Marvin Menzies' team now looks to halt its second-worst losing streak of the season, which includes a 76-70 defeat to Hawaii on Saturday.
Though this skid includes a non-conference home loss to Northern Colorado, New Mexico State has won its six WAC games at the Pan American Center by an average of 15.0 points. The team has shot 51.0 percent in those victories while holding the opposition to 41.4 percent.
"They're big, they're quick, they cause you all kinds of problems," Morrill said. "They always play us man-to-man it seems, and they get into it."
So does Morrill's team, among the nation's best in field-goal percentage defense (38.8) and scoring defense at 59.1 points per game.
Utah State, also among the nation's best in rebounding margin at 8.7, outrebounded New Mexico State 45-30 and held it to 37.7 percent from the floor in a 59-49 home win Jan. 22.
Troy Gillenwater led New Mexico State with 20 points and is second in the WAC with 19.3 per game, but he could struggle Wednesday after a thumb injury on his shooting hand contributed to him missing eight of 10 from the field and scoring just six points at Hawaii.
Utah State's Tai Wesley, among the conference leaders with 14.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, scored a team-high 18 points in the Jan. 22 victory. He had 14 in Utah State's last trip to Las Cruces - a 55-52 loss Jan. 2, 2010.
New Mexico State has won five of its last six home games in the series.