LOGAN — Three questions surrounded the Utah State University men's basketball team prior to the 2005-06 season: Would the Aggies maintain a high level of play in their first year in the Western Athletic Conference? Would forward Nate Harris respond without Spencer Nelson? And, would David Pak and Chris Huber sufficiently run the team from the point?

Answers: Yes, yes and yes.

"We had a lot of success in the Big West Conference and we knew what to expect every year," said Utah State forward Nate Harris. "Moving into the WAC there was some uncertainty and unfamiliar territory."

Before the Aggies played a game in the new conference, expectations were heaped upon their shoulders. They were picked to finish second in the league by the media and the coaches.

Utah State didn't disappoint.

The Aggies won 23 games for the seventh consecutive years and finished 11-5 in the WAC regular season (second place).

"We started (the WAC season) 1-2 in the first three games and we learned very quickly that we better pick up our game or we would struggle in this league," Harris said.

They finished second to Nevada in the WAC Tournament and they had three legitimate chances to win the game at the end of regulation.

Utah State earned its first at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament in 23 seasons, but lost to No. 17 Washington, 75-61, in the first round of the tournament in San Diego.

"It's always so fragile when you look at what could have happened and what did happen," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. "This group of kids — and I've had 20 groups as a head coach — did everything they could to be successful. I think they feel good about it and certainly their head coach feels good about it."

As a team, the Aggies are first in the WAC and third in the nation in field goal percentage (49.8). They also led the league in three-point field goal percentage (40.1 percent), free throw percentage (72.2 percent), assists per game (17.25) and assist-to-turnover ration (1.31).

Individually, Harris, 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, answered all critics as well. He finished first in the league and seventh in the nation in field goal percentage (62.1 percent) in earning first team all-WAC honors. He is the only player in Utah State history to receive three consecutive first team honors (2 Big West, 1 WAC) and is the only player to score more than 1,300 points, grab 600 rebounds, dish out 200 assists and block 80 shots in a career.

He was also a member of the WAC all-Tournament team by averaging 18 points and nine rebounds in three tournament games. He was also named to the United States Basketball Writers' Association All-District VIII team, as well as being named a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches District 14 second team.

He was sixth in the league in rebounding (7.7), seventh in scoring (17.3) and assist-to-turnover ration (1.43) and ninth in free throw shooting (74.4 percent).

Pak, who played a lot of 1 and 2 his junior year, was moved solely to the point this season and he thrived. His shooting numbers were up, especially from the three-point line, and he improved considerably from the foul line. He also led the team in assists.

"They did a great job," Morrill said. "I was concerned a little bit because we were playing David last year and he was up and down. He had a very solid senior year."

Huber accepted his role as a back-up and played solidly. When Huber missed the WAC Tournament to be with his pregnant wife, Durrall Peterson was pressed into duty at the point.

"Hubie, as much as he would have loved to be a full-time starter, he embraced the role of coming off the bench and playing 18 to 20 minutes and giving us minutes and tough defense and the 1 and 2."

Morrill recruited two point guards, but they both quit early in the season, leaving the Aggies in a bind at that position.

"That's the most pressing concern — the point guard position," Morrill said.

Besides Harris, Pak and Huber the Aggies will miss the inside services of Cass Matheus, a dominant shot-blocker, who averaged close to 10 points a game.

"Those seniors were seniors for a reason and when they got to that point they have done things awfully well. No question that are going to be missed," Morrill said. "We're losing some key people that have been unbelievably huge in what happened here over the last few years."

The Aggies, however, return second-leading scorer Jaycee Carroll, an all-WAC second-team, Peterson, Chaz Spicer, who came on offensively down the stretch, Chris Session and Nick Hammer, who played sparingly.

Arvydas Vaitiekus, a 6-foot-11 center, was a redshirt as was walk-on guard Humphrey Jackson. Freshman Nate Bendall is planning on serving an LDS Church mission.


E-mail: jhinton@desnews.com