RENO, Nev. (AP) - Fresno State coach Steve Cleveland knew his Bulldogs were in for a long game when top-seeded Utah State jumped
out to a 16-2 lead and made eight of its first 10 shots from 3-point range.
Stavon Williams came off the bench to score 22 points on 6-of-8 shooting from behind the arc and the Aggies ended up making 13 of
21 from long range on the way to an 85-68 victory over Fresno State
in the quarterfinals of the Western Athletic Conference Thursday.
"Obviously they have good shooters, but I don't know that any time in my coaching career I've ever seen a team shoot the 3 like that," Cleveland said. "They had some open looks, but they had ones that were contested."
Gary Wilkinson and Jared Quayle each added 18 for the Aggies (28-4), who already have clinched a berth in at least the NIT because they won the WAC regular season title but need two more wins to assure an NCAA tournament berth.
They will play in Friday's semifinal against New Mexico State, which beat Boise State 80-70 earlier Thursday.
"Having Stavon come off the bench and light it like he did was huge," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said.
"That cushion we had at the start of the game was really important. We came out gangbusters. We were ready and we were live and some shots fell, got our confidence going," he said.
Paul George had 16 points, Dwight O'Neil 14 and Sylvester Seay 12 for Fresno State (13-21), which never led.
Utah State shot 64 percent from the field in the opening half to take a 45-31 halftime lead. Wilkinson had six points early and Quayle and Pooh Williams five each during the 16-2 run.
"We just went out there and had fun playing basketball," said Wilkinson, the WAC player of the year who became the 33rd in school history to top the 1,000 point mark. "You play hard and you play aggressive and that's when you really enjoy the game and I think that's what helped us be confident."
Bryce Cartwright and O'Neil both nailed 3-pointers to help pull the Bulldogs to within 21-11 midway through the first half.
But Stavon Williams made three 3-pointers over the next 6 minutes and Tyler Newbold added one to put Utah State on top 33-20.
"When I made my first shot, I think overall that sort of helped me a lot because I'm a player that when I hit my first shot my confidence is pretty high," said Stavon Williams, who was 8-of-11 overall from the field.
"I just let the game come to me. I didn't force the game at all and every shot that was open I took and I was just confident it was going to go in."
Seay opened the second half with a 3-pointer to pull Fresno State to within 45-34 and George's spinning basket inside cut it to 54-45 with 12:18 remaining.
But Wilkinson hit a 20-footer on the next possession and 2 minutes later, Stavon Williams buried a 3-pointer from the corner.
He followed that with another from the right elbow then scored inside for a 69-51 lead with 7:38 left.
George sandwiched a pair of dunks around O'Neil's 3-point goal and Nedeljko Golubovic scored off a rebound to cut it to 73-61 at 4:22. But Stavon Williams answered with another 3-pointer to make it 76-61 and put the game away.