An unlikely combatant in the title game of the 29th annual Western Athletic Conference Tournament, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs find themselves pitted against the New Mexico State Aggies at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas tonight.
The fifth-seeded Bulldogs are making their first-ever appearance in the championship game of this event, the team having entered it with a record of just 4-9 before taking out Utah State in the quarterfinals on Thursday night (72-70) and then stunning top-seeded Nevada on Friday (78-73).
Meanwhile, the second-seeded Aggies continued to put up huge numbers against Hawaii this season as they delivered a 92-81 victory over the Rainbow Warriors in the semifinals on Friday. New Mexico State has now won eight of the last nine contests overall, thanks in part to a 65-49 triumph over Fresno State in the quarterfinals two nights ago.
New Mexico State, which only joined the WAC within the last decade, has a record of 13-4 in this tournament and won the title in both 2007 and 2010, this being the fourth overall appearance in the championship game for the program.
Both of the regular-season meetings this year were won by the Aggies, who posted an 83-73 win on the road in Ruston in early January and then adding an 83-72 victory at home in the Pan American Center a month later. As a result, the all-time series now sits at 14-3 in favor of New Mexico State.
Trevor Gaskins led the way for the Bulldogs once again as he dropped in 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the floor, including 3-of-6 behind the three- point line, as the team defeated top-seeded Nevada last night by five points. LaTech shot an impressive 66.7 percent from the field in the first half, 8- of-10 beyond the arc in the frame, en route to 53.1 percent from the floor overall, not to mention 18-of-22 at the free-throw line. Raheem Appleby and Romario Souza contributed 17 and 16 points, respectively, as the squad survived despite pulling down just five offensive rebounds. Gaskins (11.5 ppg) has been increasing his presence on offense as of late and that has taken some of the pressure off freshman Appleby (13.9 ppg) who for the longest time was trying to accept too much responsibility. The effort by the program at the free-throw line last night was huge, considering they are still shooting only 64.7 percent at the charity stripe this season and have been outscored at the line by 127 points over the course of 33 games.
New Mexico State allowed the Warriors to make good on an impressive 56.9 percent from the field last night, yet the Aggies still managed to offset that effort by shooting 53.1 percent from the floor themselves and winning the rebounding battle, 36-22. Daniel Mullings, who three weeks ago registered a triple-double against Hawaii, posted 12 points, a team-high 10 rebounds and four assists for NMSU, his efforts on the glass overshadowing Wendell McKines (22 points), who finished with just five boards, but did hand out six assists. Hernst Laroche pitched in with 18 points, Tshilidzi Nephawe followed with 15 points and eight boards, and Tyrone Watson added 13 points in the victory. Mullings has been huge against Hawaii the last two meetings, yet he is still averaging just 9.2 ppg and 4.1 rpg, leaving most of the hard work to McKines (18.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg) and Laroche (12.1 ppg, 128 assists).