LOGAN -- Early in the second half in the final home game of the season against Idaho, Utah State had begun to distance itself against the Vandals, but the contest was far from over. Preston Medlin frantically dribbled up court, directing an Aggie fast break that didn't have favorable numbers. That's when the first-team all-WAC guard pulled up at the top of the key and let loose a 3-pointer over three startled Vandals.
USU coach Stew Morrill's face seemed ready to explode.
However, the furrowed face took on a calm demeanor awfully fast after the ball smacked against the front of the rim, skidded across the back and then bounced mildly against the backboard and down through the net.
Medlin's surprising shot attempt somehow found its way to three points. All of a sudden -- after an early-season injury to star Brady Jardine, a less-productive-than-expected year from Brockeith Pane and numerous streaks of dominance snapped -- it felt as though the basketball deity began to favor the Aggies again.
Or, it's like Morrill said: Even a modest winning streak is enough to make him smile.
Fourth-seeded USU (17-14, 8-6 WAC) has won three straight games, its second-longest string this season, as it heads into tonight's WAC tournament first-round contest against fifth-seeded Louisiana Tech (16-15, 6-8). The non-televised game begins at 9:30 p.m.
"They didn't just die on the vine," Morrill said. "They could have gone 14-18 real easy. They went out and found a way to have a winning conference record, finish in the upper half of our league and have a winning overall record."
Morrill said that he recognizes that this team may have lost games when it was expected to have "figured it out," including a Jan. 19 loss at Seattle and February losses at Fresno State and at home against New Mexico State and UC-Santa Barbara. But Morrill said he has confidence against the Bulldogs and Friday against, most likely, Nevada -- the No. 1 seed -- and in Saturday's championship game because of the team's enduring personality.
"At the end of the year, it is always easier when you are winning, so that is why I feel proud of this group," he said. "I hope that we have done some good things coaching-wise and attitude-wise. Guys are still enjoying playing."
Utah State will have to contend with a defense that is second in the WAC in turnover margin and third in steals.
"They're just playing with a lot of purpose and a lot of energy, and I think that they deserve a lot of credit," Morrill said.
The Bulldogs are led by true freshman Raheem Appleby, who is averaging 13.8 points per game and shooting 38 percent from distance.
Morrill said the Aggies will have to play with as high a level of energy as they have all season against a team that typically likes to use its speed to run three-quarter-court presses most of the game and full-court on the ball.