RUSTON, La. - It may be first against last, but the Aggies sure are not looking at it that way.
No. 25 Utah State - 21st in the USA Today/ESPN poll - wraps up the regular season tonight at Louisiana Tech. The Aggies (27-3, 14-1 Western Athletic Conference) locked up the league title more than a week ago and will be the top seed in the upcoming WAC Tournament. The Bulldogs (12-19, 2-13) will not be heading to Las Vegas next week as they were eliminated - only the top eight schools from the conference go.
"We're not overlooking them at all," USU forward Tai Wesley said of the Bulldogs after a practice Friday. "... This is their WAC Tournament, their NCAA Tournament, their everything. We're going to have to come with it. They played Nevada well last night and probably should have won it, if they would have taken care of the ball. We're going to have to be on it."
It will be the last game of the season for LTU. Tip-off this evening on Karl Malone Court at the Thomas Assembly Center is set for 5 o'clock and will be televised on Altitude.
Like Wesley said, the Aggies will not be overlooking Louisiana Tech.
"You got to put yourself in their shoes and think, if the No. 1 team in conference is coming to town you are not going to lay down and roll over," USU forward Nate Bendall said. "You are going to go out fighting. We need to take that same mentality. We need to treat them like any team in our conference, because they can be just as good as anybody."
That sounds just like Aggie head coach Stew Morrill, who pointed out several "interesting" facts. LTU did lose to Nevada Thursday night, 73-70. However, the Bulldogs shot a season-best 57 percent from the field, including 57 percent from 3-point range (8-of-14) and outrebounded the Wolf Pack by 12. It was 26 turnovers, also a season high, that did the Bulldogs in.
Louisiana Tech's two lone WAC wins came at home against second-place Boise State and Idaho, which is currently in third. The Bulldogs lost to New Mexico State by a point and then had the close setback against Nevada.
"They have played pretty dang good in the building we are about to play in," Morrill said. "... What I've tried to tell our team is look at what they've done in this building recently. If you do, you realize they're still playing very hard, capable of beating anybody on this court. If you get caught up in their record and they are not going to the tournament, if you do that, then you start thinking things you shouldn't."
With a veteran team, Morrill believes his team is listening to his concerns. Plus, they need look no further than last year, when USU came to Ruston and was spanked 82-60.
"It's not hard to think back to last year and what happened down here," Bendall said. "... We definitely need to give Louisiana Tech the respect they deserve. It's a tough environment to play in. You don't have a lot of fans that come out to the games and they want to go out on a good note. We need to respect that. We'd be foolish to overlook anything going into this last game."
Plus, the Wesley payback tour would not be complete without a win in Ruston.
"Again, we can say payback here in Ruston," Wesley said. "They whooped us. We'll look to get a win for sure."
The Aggies don't expect a cake walk.
"We're going to have to play," Morrill said. "We've come down here and gotten thumped before. We've come down here and won by a whistle. It's never been easy here. There is no reason to think it will be anything different."
The Bulldogs will be without their top scorer and lone senior, DeAndre Brown. The guard was averaging 15.8 points a game, but is academically ineligible and has missed the past four games.
Forward Olu Ashaolu didn't have a great game against Nevada before fouling out Thursday, but is a handful. He averages 14.4 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.
"We are going to have to play and compete, because they haven't quit at all," Morrill said. "... I'm always impressed with how physical and hard they guard you."
The Aggies are not at full strength either. Guard Pooh Williams injured his ankle in USU's 58-54 win at New Mexico State on Wednesday night. He practiced more than Morrill expected him to on Friday, but is not 100 percent.
"He's noticeably limping," Morrill said. "Hopefully, he'll feel better by tomorrow with more treatment. ... He plans on playing and we plan on playing him. How effective he'll be, how many minutes he can play, that's hard to say."
That could mean more time for Brian Green and possibly Brad Brown.
After practicing early Friday afternoon, the Aggies had some down time. The team went and watched a movie together, then had dinner. Morrill called the extra day on the road a "weird deal," and reminded his players why they were in Ruston.
A win today by USU would give it 11 road victories, which would tie a school record held by the 1959-60 and a 2008-09 teams. The Aggies would also join an elite group of WAC schools with 15 league wins in a season - Utah five times, Hawaii, Nevada and Tulsa.
"We just think it would be awful to end our regular season on a loss," Wesley said. "We were 14-2 the last two years. We want to be better than that and be 15-1."
Plus, USU does not play in the WAC Tournament until Friday. Ending the regular season on a sour note would not be fun.
"Yeah, we don't want to have a bad taste in our mouth all next week," Bendall said. "That's for sure."