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‘Finest hour’—Williams leads No. 1 Aggies to 11th straight

February 18th, 2010 Posted in Sports

Story by Dan Fawson
Photos by Cody Gochnour

LOGAN–The Utah State men’s basketball team extended its season-best winning streak to 11 games Wednesday night, with a 67-61 home victory over Louisiana Tech.

With the win, USU (21-6) finds itself in prime position to capture yet another Western Athletic Conference regular season title. The Aggies are alone in first place, now two-and-a-half games ahead of Louisiana Tech, and a game-and-a-half up on second-place New Mexico State, which visits Logan March 6.

The Aggies relied on stifling defense early on, limiting the Bulldogs to a mere four points through the first eight minutes plus of the game. After USU had built a 20-10 lead, its biggest of the night, the visiting Bulldogs finally caught fire, responding with a 14-5 run, cutting the Aggie lead to one after a three-pointer from senior forward David Jackson with 1:53 left in the half. After the break, DeAndre Brown’s three-pointer gave the Bulldogs its first lead, 37-36, in the second half.

Finding themselves in dangerous waters—trailing at home in the second half of a conference game—the Aggies turned to an unexpected hero.

Typically known for his lockdown defense, Pooh Williams had what was arguably his best game of the season Wednesday night. Scoreless in 17 minutes during the first half, the junior guard/forward responded with 15 second-half points, including 11 straight during a crucial five-minute stretch while junior forward Tai Wesley sat on the bench in foul trouble.

“When he (Wesley) went out, somebody had to step up,” Williams said. “I was just trying to be that guy.”

The final two of his 11-straight points, a lay-up with 4:16 remaining, put the Aggies ahead for good at 54-52.

“The most pleasing thing to me about that is how he’s matured as a player, and I think as a person,” head coach Stew Morrill said. “Earlier in his career, if he’d of had a tough first half, he wouldn’t have been able to turn it around. He’s grown a great deal, and I thought he had an outstanding game.”

Williams did most of his damage off the dribble, consistently penetrating the Bulldog’s defense en route to six second-half layups, most of which were contested at the rim.

“I can’t say enough how much he stepped up tonight,” senior guard Jared Quayle said. “He’s a fantastic player and you’ve got to give him credit for carrying us tonight.

“He’s a great penetrator. Guarding him in practice is hard, because he ducks his shoulder and he gets to the rim all the time. He’s strong and he can finish.”

Williams credited the coaching staff for giving him offensive options. “Coaches (are) telling me if my shot’s not falling, just get into the lane and make plays for myself and other guys,” he said, “and that’s just what I was trying to do.”

Williams was one of four Aggies to score in double figures. Wesley led the team with 16 points, while Quayle chipped in 13 and junior center Nate Bendall added 11.

After a sluggish first half marred by scoring droughts and missed open shots from both teams, the second half was back-and-forth affair, the likes of which Utah State hasn’t seen much of during its dominant winning streak. The final stanza saw three ties, six lead changes, and the outcome very much in doubt during the final minute.

A pair of free-throws at the 1:33 mark from Tech senior center Magnum Rolle brought the Bulldogs within two, 60-58. Williams missed a three-pointer on the Aggies next possession, and, looking to run off the missed shot, the Bulldogs appeared to have Rolle open for a potential tying layup. But Aggie junior guard Tyler Newbold stole the ball from Bulldog guard Jamel Guyton, and Tech was forced to foul Williams to stop the clock.

Heading to the free-throw line shooting one-and-one, Williams missed his first, but Bendall pulled down the offensive rebound and scored as he was being fouled on a put-back layup. Bendall hit his free-throw, putting the Aggies ahead 63-58 with 27 seconds left, sealing the victory.

“Nate Bendall [made] a huge play on a missed free throw,” Morrill said. “When the game was on the line we made some plays and that was the difference.

“I feel good about that one. We’re just pretty much spent,” the coach said, ”kids, coaches, everybody.”

The Bulldogs were led by Rolle, who finished with a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds. Brown, a freshman, chipped in 14 points, as did senior forward Kyle Gibson, who had a difficult time dealing with Williams’ stifling defense.

Gibson, who came into the night averaging 21 points per game, struggled against the Aggies, shooting just 4-18 from the field.

“When I guard players like that, my goal is just to keep them under their average and not let them shoot a good percentage,” Williams said. “I just went out and tried to give it all I had tonight on him.”

Morrill says he depends on Williams to close down opponents’ hot players, and he delivered Wednesday.

“We had a lot of guys help, but obviously Pooh gets that assignment a lot,” Morrill said. “He has to guard the other team’s best perimeter player a lot, and he just did a great job. Overall, (it) might have been his finest hour as an Aggie. He was good, tonight, really good.”

The Aggies will take a short break from WAC play Saturday night, when they welcome Wichita State of the Missouri Valley Conference to Logan for an ESPN Bracketbuster game.


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