LAS VEGAS (AP) -- They were the team that gave Louisiana Tech coach Mike White the most fits all season.
And, of course, it turned out that New Mexico State was the team standing between the Bulldogs and their first NCAA tournament bid in more than 20 years.
Physically overmatched and playing with tired legs, Louisiana Tech couldn't solve the Aggies in the Western Athletic Conference title game.
"I'm kind of at a loss," White said. "If we were to play New Mexico State tomorrow, I don't know what the heck we would do."
Wendell McKines scored 27 and grabbed 14 rebounds, and New Mexico State claimed its third WAC tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with a dominant 82-57 win over Louisiana Tech on Saturday night.
The Aggies (26-9) will make their 19th NCAA tournament appearance and second under coach Marvin Menzies to go along with winning the conference tournament in 2010.
"In 2010, it was, 'Oh my God we're going to the tournament!' Now it's like, 'OK we know what to expect in the tournament and what to do to win,'" McKines said. "We know we can play with anybody."
Louisiana Tech reached the finals of the WAC tourney for the first time with its stunning upset of regular-season champion Nevada in the semifinals. They were trying to become the third No. 5 seed all-time -- and first since Hawaii in 2001 -- to win the tournament title. If they had, the Bulldogs would have claimed the school's first NCAA bid since 1991 when they were champs of the America South Conference and went into the NCAA tourney as a No. 12 seed.
But the Bulldogs fell into a double-digit deficit within the first few minutes. And, unlike a night earlier when Hawaii rallied from a 20-point hole against the Aggies, this time New Mexico State never let up.
Trevor Gaskins led Louisiana Tech (18-16) with 24 points, but the Bulldogs shot just 33 percent and made three of 18 3-pointers. After controlling the pace and tempo in the semifinals against Nevada, the Bulldogs got outmuscled the entire first half by the Aggies. And while La Tech was unable to get anything established on the inside, its outside game was off target, too. The Bulldogs missed all 10 3-point attempts in the first half, a night after making its first seven shots from beyond the arc.
WAC freshman of the year Raheem Appleby added 15 points, but no other Louisiana Tech player scored more than four.
"When those first few shots were short and they were dominating us at the rim, I could see it in our guys' eyes. We had some thoughts creeping in, some doubts there," White said. "A lot of that is credit to New Mexico State. They physically overpowered us at almost every position and they did it for 40 minutes."
The Aggies' physical domination served as a tuneup for the NCAA tournament. The 25-point margin of victory was the largest in a title game in WAC tournament history.
McKines capped a stellar tournament in which he was voted MVP by making 12 of 16 shots, finishing one point off his career high, and recording his 17th 20-point game of the season. He was lauded with chants of "MVP, MVP" from Aggies' fans after knocking down consecutive 3-pointers in the final 3½ minutes and checking out, then was the guy every Aggies fan was seeking out on the floor for cellphone pictures with the championship trophy.
Daniel Mullings and Tyrone Watson both added 12 points for the Aggies, who outrebounded La Tech 46-27 and scored 56 of their 82 points in the paint.
The Aggies used all of their size and length to make the Bulldogs' night miserable. On the defensive end, Mullings smothered Appleby, while McKines, Watson, Hamidu Rahman and Tshilidzi Nephawe made sure shots were challenged inside and offensive rebounds were few.
The Aggies scored the first eight, and 14 of the first 18 points, then later in the half used a 10-2 spurt to take a 20-point lead when McKines followed Laroche's miss. Half of McKines' 12 points in the first half came off offensive rebounds. With 3 minutes left in the first half, McKines had already recorded his 19th double-double of the season and the Aggies scored 34 of their 38 first-half points in the paint.
Despite the outcome, White was extremely upbeat about the Bulldogs' future going forward.
"We were picked last and we played in the championship game ... I couldn't be more proud of these guys," he said. "I'm disappointed in the outcome of tonight, but I'm amazed how much better we've become."