Bernard Rock, surprised to be named Big West Tournament MVP on Saturday night in Anaheim, said he would have voted for teammate Shawn Daniels for most valuable player in Utah State's second straight tournament championship.
Daniels, who made the 2001 all-tournament team and who shared MVP honors when the Aggies won the 2000 tournament, was quite upset that teammate Dion Bailey wasn't named to the all-tournament team. So Daniels set out to change things, at least internally.
Daniels gave Aggie sixth man Bailey the large and handsome rolling duffle bag that went along with being named to the all-tourney team, even though Bailey was overlooked by the media who voted officially. And Daniels declared himself off the team and Bailey on, though the proclamation was unofficial.
"We know that our success comes by way of the team, so it doesn't really matter to me," shrugged the snubbed Bailey, USU's sixth man who scored 14, 2 and 13 points in the three tourney games while kicking the energy up several notches defensively with four steals in the championship game. He averaged 19 minutes a game in the tourney.
Rock led the tournament in assists (10) and USU in scoring (32), Curtis Bobb scored 31 and had 18 rebounds, Daniels scored 30 points and had a tourney-high 25 rebounds and six blocked shots. All three got at least some MVP votes.
The players on this two-time Big West Conference-championship team are as unselfish and unified off the court as they are on it.
It's why USU can play the unflagging defense — personified by Bailey and Bobb — that carried it through three more Big West tourney wins, finishing up with that 50-38 victory in the championship game over University of the Pacific late Saturday night in the Anaheim Convention Center.
Few Big West-level teams play defense like the Aggies. In 2001's BWC tournament, they held opponents to 36 percent, 31 percent and, in the title game, 35 percent field-goal shooting. All three opponents scored fewer than 50 points.
The Ags kept their semifinal opponent, Boise State, from even taking a shot for a four-minute period and from scoring for more than the last 12 minutes of the game. They held Pacific to 15 first-half points. In last year's BWT, USU held its victims to 33, 30 and 38 percent shooting.
And for the past two seasons, this team has produced 55 wins and 11 losses, with at least one more game to alter those numbers Thursday at 10:25 a.m. MST against fifth-seeded, 20-10 Ohio State in the East Regional first round at Greensboro, N.C. A win would tie last season's USU school record of 28 in a season, but the Ags haven't won in the NCAAs since 1970.
ALL-BWC TOURNAMENT TEAM: MVP — Bernard Rock, Utah State. Team: Shawn Daniels, Utah State; Curtis Bobb, Utah State; Peter Heizer, Pacific; Maurice McLemore, Pacific; Jerry Green, UC Irvine; Kejuan Woods, Boise State.
Heizer led all tourney scorers with 51 points in three games. Green, the regular-season MVP, had 43 points in two games, and Woods had 40 in two.
MARCH GOODNESS: Since 1996, Utah State's record in the month of March, the most holy month of all for college basketball, is 18-5. Under Morrill, the Aggies are 10-2 in Marches.
This record will likely change, but the Aggies have played in three tournaments this season and made the championship game in all of them, winning the BWC and Gossner Classic and losing in overtime to Austin Peay in the Top of the World tourney in Alaska.
RACE TO HALFTIME: Both USU and Ohio State win if they lead at the half. Ohio State is 17-2 when leading at the half. USU is 23-1 this season with the intermission advantage, 64-2 in its last 66 times with the halftime lead. The Ags are also 23-1 this season when holding opponents under 60 points. Morrill's USU teams are 34-2 in his three seasons when keeping the under-60 lid on.