Huskies’ defense locks Sam Merrill out of the building
USU’s streak meets its abrupt end as UW moves on to the round of 32
Contact/Follow @Logantj & @MWCwire
Aggies give up a bunch of threes, fail to solve UW’s zone, lose the game
A first-round tournament exit wasn’t exactly what the Aggies had in mind after punching their ticket in Vegas last week, but failing to out-duel Washington 78-61 Friday means the 2018-19 dream season is at its end.
The Huskies recovered their offensive swagger after a month-long drought and torched USU’s defense, shooting 10-17 from distance and 49 percent from the floor. Noah Dickerson had 20 points, 12 rebounds in the Huskies’ first tourney win since 2011. Brock Miller led the Aggies with 13 points, sophomore guard Abel Porter added 10 and Sam Merrill managed 10 of his own despite a rough night as the focal point of UW’s stingy defensive front.
Even in a game where Washington did basically everything right, Utah State managed to cut UW’s 12-point second-half lead down to just one with nearly ten minutes still to play. But behind Dickerson’s offense, Matisse Thybulle’s defense and Jaylen Nowell doing Pac-12 player of the year things (including 19 points and five assists) the Huskies managed to keep Utah State’s comeback bid at bay. Washington’s timely bursts of offense paired with USU’s absurd number of turnovers saw the Huskies deal three separate runs of 9-0, 13-3 and 11-2 to snuff out Craig Smith’s USU squad and advance to the round of 32.
— Washington did the thing it does best tonight, spoiling Sam Merrill’s day and daring someone else in an Aggie uniform to step up in his stead. Honing in on Merrill and limiting USU’s offensive catalyst to just two made field goals forced the Aggies out of their natural offensive flow, and the less-experienced USU guards struggled to deliver in his absence. Merrill finished with 10pts, three assists and six turnovers.
— Turnovers may be the only statistic more meaningful than UW’s hot three-point shooting. Utah State won handily on the glass tonight (35 boards to 29), but awarded the Huskies a whopping 21 bonus possessions due to sheer careless mistakes. It’s tough to beat any team while turning the ball over that many times, but near-impossible with your opponent shooting 49 percent from the floor. Washington scored 26 points off turnovers, effectively voiding anything positive USU could get going offensively (which, in the second half, wasn’t much).
— Craig Smith’s second-half speech saw Utah State successfully dig its way out of a hole just to be shoved unceremoniously back down into it. In a 3-minute span, Utah State nearly erased a 12-point deficit, storming back into the contest trailing by just one at 54-53. The Aggies then committed back-to-back turnovers, gave up two Nahziah Carter three-pointers and never came within two possessions the rest of the game. See above bullet point re: turnovers.
— Matisse Thybulle is the truth. Everything about his game frustrated Utah State, and even facing foul trouble through the game’s last seven minutes Thybulle managed to stay on the floor and make a meaningful impact (USU did try to go right at him a few times — it ended poorly). Showing how amped his dad was in the crowd at the end of the game was a nice reminder that March Madness is great even when everything sucks.
— This is one of the three best defenses Utah State faced all season, and probably the Aggies’ best performance in those matchups. Still, seeing Merrill locked up and Queta struggle with UW’s interior defense gives coach Smith a road map toward how to improve his young team. Having a legit third option would go a long way toward competing at the national level — Abel Porter and Brock Miller showed some spark here and there, but still combined for just 6-20 shooting. Queta also finished with 11pts, 9rbs and a pair of blocks. Developing Queta for a full offseason and seeing Porter/Miller/Brito take a leap forward is a good way to get back into the big dance.
— Utah State finished its season with a 28-7 record (tied for the third-best mark in school history), but was 0-5 this season when trailing at the half (Washington led 40-28 at the break).
This won’t be the last we see of the Craig Smith era in Logan, UT, nor will this be the last takeaways article of the year (obviously year-end takeaways are in order), but for now Aggie fans can rest easy knowing the past year remains a dazzling success — and a bright future awaits.