Wolf Pack faces crucial WAC game against Utah State | NevadaAppeal.com

Wolf Pack faces crucial WAC game against Utah State

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal

David Carter isn’t fooled at all by the Utah State Aggies’ 1-2 record in Western Athletic Conference play this season.

“They are still a very good team,” the Wolf Pack men’s basketball head coach said. “You can’t think they aren’t as good as last year just because of their record. They might not be as deep as last year but they are still a very good basketball team.”

Utah State, which beat the Wolf Pack, 72-62, in the WAC tournament title game last March in Reno, returns to Lawlor Events Center to meet the Wolf Pack on Wednesday night (8 p.m., ESPN 2). The Aggies are 11-6 overall this year and beat BYU, 71-61, early last month.

“Every game gets bigger than the last,” said Carter, whose Wolf Pack have won eight of their last 10 games to improve to 10-6 overall and 2-1 in the WAC.

Utah State is basically the same team as last year except for one big difference. Gone from the 2008-09 Aggies team that finished 30-5 (14-2 in WAC play) is center Gary Wilkinson and his 17.1 points and 6.8 rebounds. Wilkinson averaged 14.7 points a game last year as Utah State beat the Pack twice in three games.

“Losing him affects them big-time,” Carter said. “He was able to score inside and out and he was able to stretch the defense. Now, all of their post players are inside players.”

Tai Wesley is Utah State’s main threat inside, averaging a team-high 13.5 points a game. Nate Bendall chips in with 11.3 points a game. The Aggie’s though, remain very dangerous on the perimeter with Jared Quayle (11.6 points), Tyler Newbold (9.1) and Pooh Williams (7.3).

Wesley, Carter said, could be a key on Wednesday night. Wesley averaged 15.3 points a game last season against the Wolf Pack.

“We have to limit his touches,” Carter said. “He’s very strong inside, an excellent passer. This year he has had to do a little bit more so he’s playing with more aggressiveness. He’s kind of taken the role Wilkinson had last year.”

The Aggies, who beat Hawaii, 98-54, on Monday night for their first WAC win, like to do a lot of damage from outside the arc with starters Quayle, Newbold and Williams as well as bench players Brian Green and Preston Medlin.

“We have to get (Quayle) out of his rhythm,” Carter said. “He’s similar to (Pack point guard) Armon Johnson in that he runs the team and he can also score. We have to stay on him and hope to wear him down a little. If we can disrupt him a little we’ll have a good chance of winning.”

Quayle had 15 points and 10 rebounds in Utah State’s WAC title game win over Nevada while Wesley had 14 points and 11 rebounds. Williams also added 12 points to complement Wilkinson’s 21-point effort.

The Pack shot just 31 % (22-of-72) in that loss on March 14. That game sent the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament and the Wolf Pack to the College Basketball Invitational.

“They do a good job of helping out on defense,” Carter said. “When you penetrate it’s hard to get all the way to the rim.”

Idaho, which beat the Pack at Lawlor last year (78-73 on Jan. 3, 2009), is 8-7 overall and 1-3 in the WAC. All three of the Vandals’ WAC losses, though, have been by by six points or less (78-75 to San Jose State, 77-71 to Louisiana Tech and 75-72 to New Mexico State).

“They have a lot of guys back from last year and they are a team you can’t take for granted,” Carter said. “They beat us here last year and our guys remember that.”

Idaho is led by guard Mac Hopson, who is averaging 15.3 points a game. Steffon Johnson is averaging 11.7 points a game and Kashif Watson is at 10.6. Hopson averaged 17.5 in two games against the Pack last year.

“He’s a very good point guard,” Cartrer said. “He can score and he’s able to find the open man. He’s a very aggressive player and he has deceiving quickness. Johnson is also a guy who can play the one or two. But Idaho goes as (Hopson) goes.”