The Aggies are back in the championship game for the second time in the past three seasons and the third time in the past five seasons (we'll get to that in a minute). The Aggies jumped out to a huge lead against Hawai'i opening the game on a 22-2 run. Hawai'i made a little run to get back into the game but then the Aggies pushed the lead back to 38-20. However, Hawai'i would go on a 12-0 run to cut the lead to six and it remained a tight contest throughout the remainder of the game.
First of all, a big-time kudos to Hawai'i for fighting back in the game. Given how their season had ended (five straight losses), playing without their best shooter (and a senior) Zane Johnson and having been thoroughly drubbed in Las Cruces by 42 points, it would have been very easy for the Warriors to fold up tent. They did not and we really think that the Aggies are the beneficiaries because Louisiana Tech will give the Aggies every bit as much of a fight tonight as Hawai'i did last night.
There's an interesting parallel going on with this year's team and the 2006-07 title team and we noted back in late December that the schedule that year was very similar to the schedule this year, both have a win over New Mexico, both have a win over UTEP, both have Arkansas-Pine Bluff on the schedule and both feature a bizarre non-conference home-and-home (that year it was Chicago State, this year it's Cal State-Bakersfield). We can add that both that year and this year Nevada won the regular season title but failed to reach the WAC title game and in fact, that season, the Aggies were the 2-seed and had the bracket open up for them in a similar fashion to this year. In 2006-07 the Aggies faced the 7-seed, the 6-seed and the 4-seed en route to the title and this year the Aggies faced the 7-seed, the 6-seed and the 5-seed, hopefully in route to the title.
Of course, none of that matters tonight when the two teams take the floor. We've been saying for quite a while that Louisiana Tech was a dangerous team and one that could cause trouble for some upper half of the bracket team in the WAC tourney. Both Utah State and Nevada found that out the hard way. Before the Aggies' meeting with them in Las Cruces we wrote: "This is a very interesting game in that Louisiana Tech is MUCH, we repeat MUCH better than their record indicates. They may be 3-4 in league play but three of those four losses by been by a combined total of eight points. This is definitely not a game the Aggies can look past. Louisiana Tech is a capable team and quite frankly, the surprise of the league this year under first-year head coach Michael White."
All of that still rings true tonight as the two teams take the court. LA Tech has really come together over the past month and like the Aggies, they're hot. The Bulldogs are winners of seven of their past eight games, the Aggies have won eight of their past nine. The only losses suffered by the two? At Nevada.
The Bulldogs are still tops in the league in forcing turnovers and opponent turnover rate and the Aggies still struggle at times turning the ball over. The Bulldogs also get nearly 33 percent of their points from behind the three point arc, something the Aggies must defend well against tonight.
For the Aggies, rebounding and second chance points will be a huge key. The Aggies have a huge size advantage in this game and they must be able to use that to their advantage to wear out the Bulldogs. Both teams like to push the pace and it should be a very entertaining game.
Another potential plus for the Aggies is that they've played two types of games in the tournament and won both, they've had the low-scoring defensive minded win over Fresno State and the fast-paced, tons of scoring type game against Hawai'i. "I think that the advantage is simply that we have the ability to play both ways and luckily we were victorious both ways. We've got guys that can run and we've got some size and some good execution in the halfcourt offensively and we can defend well in the halfcourt set too. We've been doing some good things with some experienced guys, things are good right now."
We expect both teams to play loose tonight. For LA Tech, they weren't supposed to be here. At this point they're playing with house money and have absolutely nothing to lose. For the Aggies, the script has been flipped almost instantaneously. They went from potentially being the team trying to prove the adage "it's hard to beat a team three times in one season" to a team trying to disprove it.
This will be the third championship game appearance for Coach Menzies and we asked him what he could draw on from those two previous experiences (a win and a loss) that will help with tonight's game, "Just keeping the kids calm, keeping them understanding that there's nothing different about the game except more pain or more joy if you win or lose it but the game itself is the same."
In the end, we think it will come down to the experience of the Aggies versus the inexperience of the Bulldogs. The Aggies have three players in Wendell McKines, Hernst Laroche and Hamidu Rahman who have been in this situation before. They also have a coach in Marvin Menzies who has been in this situation twice before and in games like tonight, experience almost always wins out.
The game is scheduled for a 10:00 p.m. (MT) tipoff and can be seen on ESPN2.
Aggie Men's Basketball
Jason Groves of the Las Cruces Sun-News blogs his thoughts on the game tonight.
Teddy Feinberg of the Las Cruces Sun-News blogs his thoughts on tonight's title game.
Jason Groves recaps last night's win over Hawai'i.
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