Utah State University’s women’s basketball team has advanced into the semi-finals of the 10-team Western Athletic Conference (WAC) tournament for a third consecutive year.
The No. 2-seeded Aggies (18-12), with freshman forward and former Wood River High School star Haylee Thompson, will face No. 3-seeded University of Idaho (15-15) on Friday, March 15 at 1 p.m. Mountain Time on the hardwoods at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.
Utah State won its first WAC game on Wednesday afternoon 78-65 over Denver University (14-17) while Idaho advanced into Friday’s semi-final game of the single elimination tournament by beating No. 6 San Jose State 57-55 earlier Wednesday.
The two teams have clashed twice this season, Utah State winning both times, 91-85 at Moscow and 81-50 over Idaho’s Vandals on the court at Logan, Utah.
Top-seeded Seattle University (19-9), in its first WAC season, will tackle No. 5 Louisiana Tech (14-16) in Friday’s other semi-final game at 3:30 p.m. Mountain Time at Orleans Arena. In their quarterfinal games Wednesday, Seattle ousted No. 8 New Mexico State (15-16) by a 77-53 score and Louisiana Tech raced past No. 4 University of Texas-San Antonio (16-14) 85-58.
If Seattle and Utah State advance into the championship game, it will be the rubber game of their series. Seattle won in overtime 71-68 at home, then lost 67-62 at Utah State.
Championship game is Saturday, March 16 at 1 p.m. Mountain Time, to be televised on ESPN-U. The tournament winner automatically advances to the NCAA Division 1 tournament.
In Utah State’s opening tournament game Wednesday, the Aggies shot 55% from the field including a season-best 13-of-25 from 3-point range against Denver. Thompson played 16 minutes and pulled down two rebounds.
Thompson, a 6-1 forward/guard who is the daughter of John Thompson and Kim McKinnon, has played a role in the team’s success this season.
She has played 29 games, starting nine of them, and is averaging 11.8 minutes per game, 2.3 rebounds and 2.2 points. She ranks second on the team in field goal percentage, .500, on 28-of-56 shooting. She has made 6-of-10 free throws on one of the country’s best free throw shooting squads.
Bound for the Mountain West next season, the Aggies are playing in their eighth and final WAC Tournament—and the first for coach Jerry Finkbeiner.
Utah State is now 4-7 in the WAC tournament with an overtime win in the quarterfinals against Idaho in 2009 and a quarterfinal win over New Mexico State in 2011. USU's third WAC tournament win came against Nevada last season and its fourth victory was over Denver on Wednesday.
Six of the eight WAC Tournaments that USU has played in have been in the state of Nevada, playing three in Reno and three in Las Vegas. The other two tournaments in which the Aggies have participated were in Las Cruces on the campus of New Mexico State.
Utah State has had the dubious distinction of having lost to the eventual champion three of the last four seasons, losing to Fresno State in 2009 and 2011 and Louisiana Tech in 2010. Last year, Fresno State marked its final year in the WAC by winning its second straight tournament title and fourth overall 89-61 over Louisiana Tech.
Last year Utah State (21-10) notched its first-ever 20-win season that ended with a 69-58 loss to Utah in the first round of the WNIT post-season tournament.
This season, Utah State’s second seed matches the best the Aggies have achieved during eight seasons in the league. And Utah State’s 14 conference wins represents the best total in the school’s women’s basketball history.