(AP Photo)LOGAN -- Aggie Head Coach Stew Morrill has a couple of reasons why he schedules a three-day tournament for his team before heading into WAC play. The Utah State Aggies (8-4), who are 2-0 thus far in the tournament, are one win away from fulfilling that purpose as they conclude the Basketball Travelers Invitational Wednesday against the in-state rival Weber State Wildcats (7-5), who are also 2-0 in the tournament.
The Wildcats defeated Cal State Fullerton (82-71) and squeaked by Morehead State (66-64) in a comeback victory. The Aggies defeated Morehead State 79-72 on the first day and dispatched of Cal State Fullerton 83-60 on day two of the tournament.
"We told them the reason we play this tournament is to give them a preview of the conference tournament. We've went to Alaska and played three games. We've went to Maui and played three games. We've now got our exempt tournament, and you want them thinking that they'll know how to do that when the WAC Tournament rolls around," said Coach Morrill.
It's a team that will be right there in the Big Sky Conference again. I'm real impressed with them. I think they have improved a great deal since we played them the first time. We're gonna have to play well.
–USU Head Coach Stew Morrill on Weber State
This is the second time Weber State and Utah State will have squared off this season. The two teams opened the season in November in Ogden with the Aggies coming out on top, 66-60. Utah State had four players score in double-figures led by junior guard Tyler Newbold¹s 15 points.
Junior forward Nate Bendall had 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting to go along with five rebounds, while senior guard Jared Quayle added 11 points and a game-high eight rebounds. Junior guard Brian Green finished with 10 points in his first career game at USU.
Weber State sophomore guard Damian Lillard hit a lay-up as part of his game-high 20 points to begin the game, but Newbold scored back-to-back buckets for Utah State to give the visitors a lead it would never relinquish. Utah State began the second-half on an 8-1 run to extend its lead to 36-23 following a baseline jumper from Green.
USU led by 10 at 59-49 with 1:39 remaining after Newbold hit his third three-pointer of the game from the left corner. Utah State finished the game shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three-point range. Weber State shot just 33.3 percent overall (21-63), including just 10.0 percent from behind the arc (2-20).
"It's a team that will be right there in the Big Sky Conference again. I'm real impressed with them," said Coach Morrill of Weber State."I think they have improved a great deal since we played them the first time. We're gonna have to play well."
Aggie junior forward Pooh Williams was not able play against the Wildcats in Ogden, and his lock-down defense will be needed to secure a victory. Williams will most likely be matched up against Lillard who is leading the team averaging 18.8 points per game.
"Lillard is a tough player. You gotta just contain him. You can't really say you're going to shut him down, but you just gotta do your best to contain him," said Williams.
The last time Weber State and Utah State squared-off in Logan, Nov. 25, 2008, Aggie junior forward Tai Wesley barely missed recording just the fourth triple-double in school history as he finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high nine assists as the Aggies defeated the Wildcats,75-49.
All five Utah State starters finished the game by scoring in double-figures as senior forward Gary Wilkinson had a game-high 18 points to go along with six rebounds. Jaxon Myaer had 13 points. Newbold scored 12 points and junior guard Jared Quayle had 10 points.
Steve Panos finished with 17 points and eight rebounds for Weber State, while Kellen McCoy had 16 points, including 13 in the first-half. Nick Hansen also scored in double-figures for the visitors as he scored all 10 of his points in the first-half. Trailing 35-28 at the break, Newbold began the second-half by hitting a three-pointer for Utah State to ignite a 24-7 run. In the second-half, Utah State out-scored the Wildcats 47-14 and held the visitors without a field goal for the final 16:20 of the game.
After shooting just 33.3 percent in the first-half, Utah State made 19-of-29 field goals and finished the game by shooting 52.0 percent (26-50). Weber State finished the game by shooting 38.1 percent (16-42), but was just 3-of-15 (.200) from the field in the second-half.
With a win tonight the Aggies would be the Invitational Champions, but would also win the coveted Old Oquirrh Bucket, which is given to the team with the best record against in-state opponents. The task won't be easy against the much improved Wildcat team.
"We expect it will be a pretty tough game. We just gotta go out there and play hard and try to out-work them," said Williams.
Tip-off for the Aggies and Wildcats is set for 8 p.m. in the Spectrum. Cal State Fullerton will face Morehead State at 5:30 p.m. for the consolation game.