After beginning this week with its first national ranking in nearly three decades, Louisiana Tech can close it out by claiming at least a share of its first regular-season conference title in 14 years.
The No. 25 Bulldogs will try to do that and stay unbeaten in the Western Athletic Conference by sending San Jose State to a 12th consecutive defeat Saturday night.Louisiana Tech hadn't appeared in the Top 25 since Karl Malone was its star player in 1984-85, but a school-record, 17-game win streak led to the Bulldogs' return Monday. Coach Michael White had concerns the national ranking might affect his players' focus, but they followed with an 84-61 rout of visiting Utah State on Thursday."I wish we could bottle that and be the same team Saturday and next week," White said. "That is what we are striving for, but we all know it is tough to be as consistently good as we were tonight."Brandon Gibson matched a season high with 20 points as Louisiana Tech (25-3, 15-0) moved a step closer to its first conference title since winning the Sun Belt in 1998-99.The Bulldogs can accomplish that goal by taking care of the struggling Spartans (9-17, 3-12), and they could win the outright WAC championship if second-place Denver loses to third-place New Mexico State on Saturday. Louisiana Tech closes the regular season with road games against those two teams."We're doing something special, trying to make history," said Gibson, one of the Bulldogs' two seniors. "We want to be able to look back at this year and say 'We did this' and 'We did that.' If we take it one day at a time, we'll be OK."In their visit to San Jose State on Jan. 24, the Bulldogs pulled away in the second half for a 76-54 victory. Leading scorer Raheem Appleby (14.7 points per game) had a game-high 17 in that matchup, and he's averaged 17.7 during his team's three-game win streak in this series.San Jose State has shot 32.9 percent during its losing streak -- the program's longest in one season since a 13-game skid in 2003-04 -- but is coming off its best shooting performance of those 11 games. The Spartans hit 42.1 percent from the field, including 10 of 25 from 3-point range, but were hurt by 12 first-half turnovers en route to an 81-74 loss at Texas-Arlington on Thursday."You take away the turnovers, our ball movement and shot choices were pretty good," coach George Nessman said. "We had some guys step up and make some shots. That has been a missing component in a lot of our games."Louis Garrett had a career-high 25 points for San Jose State, which is missing leading scorer James Kinney (20.6 ppg) due to a suspension reportedly linked to academics.Louisiana Tech has won eight of 10 all-time home meetings with the Spartans and leads the series 14-9.