Series Recap: Utah State vs. Nevada
Big outings from Utah State’s big men get the job done.
The Aggies meant business this time around and sent the Wolf Pack home with two losses.
LOGAN, UT–The Utah State Aggies really came ready to play in their series with the visiting Nevada Wolf Pack. Both programs approached Friday night’s first-leg with an intensity and need to win.
But it was the Aggies’ big men who dropped dominating performances in both outings to help secure the sweep for head coach Craig Smith this weekend.
— USU Football (@USUFootball) March 1, 2021
If there were a pair of themes that could be attributed to the Wolf Pack’s two losses this past weekend, it was cold starts and rebounding.
Things were a bit lopsided heading into the half in on Friday night. As the Aggies walked to their locker room with a comfortable 41-25 lead. The second-half saw a resurgence from Steve Alford‘s squad. Trimming a 21-point second-half deficit down to just 2, with 31-seconds left in the game. It was a big effort on the Wolf Pack’s side who outscored the Aggies 47-34 in the second-half, but it wasn’t enough.
Game-two began similarly with the Aggies walking into half-time once again up on the scoreboard, this time 39-23. But this time, they couldn’t mount the same sort of comeback. The closest things got for the Wolf Pack in the second-half was an 11-point deficit. Down 46-35 with a little over sixteen minutes to go in the game, a 15-3 Aggie run after a timeout put Nevada down 61-38 and in too big of a hole to climb out of.
Though it was the same two teams playing just 24-hours later, the Aggies learned from Friday night and made pivotal changes to their second-half approach on Saturday.
Compared to their first meeting, the Aggies were also able to cause more disruption when it came to the Wolf Pack’s ball security. Causing 19 turnovers to just 13 assists (a turnover ratio of just 0.68). Compared to 18 assists and 12 turnovers on Friday (a turnover ratio of 1.50) the day before.
All of this while boasting an impressive 1.54 turnover ratio (or 42 assists to 28 turnovers) with facilitating duties shared throughout. Big man Neemias Queta led his squad with 6 assists of his own with 0 turnovers on Saturday.
Nevada: Desmond Cambridge Jr., Series stats: 18.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.5 APG & 2.5 SPG
The Aggies did a tremendous job of taking Nevada’s leading scorer Grant Sherfield out of the game in both contests. Averaging just 8.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 6.5 APG & 4.5 TOV.
“He’s going to have to watch a lot of film,” Alford said of Sherfield. “It looks like that pause might have affected him more than anybody. He never got in rhythm. It’s just two games, but those were two of his poorer games, and like everybody you just have to learn from it. Grant has done a great job of being consistent and being a top-level player and you’re going to get all the scouring reports now. They did a good job of defending him.
— Nevada Basketball (@NevadaHoops) March 1, 2021
The Wolf Pack just looked swamped by the Aggies defensive efforts this weekend. Still, in steps Cambridge Jr., who managed to scrape together a respectable 13-points, 4 rebounds & 2 steals. This came after posting a team high 23-points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in game-one.
I can’t help highlighting two players for this section, especially when both had a big role in a very important sweep this past weekend.
To me the potential of this Utah State squad was really only going to be as high as this frontcourt duo took them this season. With a freshmen backcourt and newcomers sprinkled all over the roster, I was looking to the paint to see some big production.
That never really happened, as each player enjoyed some big games until now. But nothing like the back-to-back performances put on this weekend. I’ll start with Queta who not only dominated the glass in both contests, averaging 15.0 RPG (17 in GM1, 13 in GM2). But also had an amazing scoring output (21.0 PPG) and made his presence known in the paint (2.0 BPG).
The 7-foot Portuguese big man has had extremely consistent scoring performances this far but upped his game this time around to be a true two-way player down low.
— USU Men's Hoops (@USUBasketball) March 1, 2021
His partner in the paint, Justin Bean also had an above average weekend for the Aggies. The 6-7 swiss army knife, averaged a double-double in both outings while also averaging 3.0 SPG in just 28.5 MPG. These guys terrorized the paint and were responsible for .631% of their team’s total rebounds over the two games.
“The only offensive rebound we got was from Desmond,” Alford said. “They dominated the backboard and because of that they really got out and run in transition and beat us in transition.”
This campaign on the glass by Utah State equated to the Wolf Pack being outrebounded 85-52 overall and even worse when it came to offensive boards, 28-7.
“I never thought we really got going,” Nevada coach Steve Alford said. “We got absolutely destroyed on the glass, and in transition. Those were the two biggest keys in this game, and we just got beat really bad there.”
The Youth Movement
One thing I found interesting on both squad’s box scores this past weekend was the use of freshmen guards on both sides.
The poise and growth under pressure that Aggie freshman Rollie Worster has handled has been well documented thus far. The 6-3 Missoula, MT native returned to the court on Saturday after missing three weeks with a leg injury. Back on the floor, he contributed 3-points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in just 14 minutes of play off of the bench.
“From day one, Rollie was a talented kid with moxie, toughness and tremendous composure as a player — for any age, let alone a true freshman,” Utah State coach Craig Smith said. “I thought you could feel that tonight. All of our guys believe in him; he’s an excellent defensive player, and we really missed him on the defensive end of the floor, especially with Brock (Miller’s) back issue.”
Helping takeover backcourt duties though was fellow freshmen Steven Ashworth and Max Shulga. Ashworth has seen more time on the floor this season compared to Shulga. And averaged 9.0 PPG, 3.0 APG with only 0.5 turnovers per game this series. Shulga, who has been averaging just 7.1 MPG in 17 appearances for the Aggies this season had a series of his own. Averaging 6.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.0 APG & 2.0 SPG in 21.0 MPG over the weekend.
These performances aren’t eye-popping by any means but display much-needed growth for this Aggie backcourt given the lack of experience first encountered at the beginning of the year. As well as more recently, with the injury of Worster where we saw more of the ball handling duties fall to redshirt junior Brock Miller. Who is apparently dealing with ailments of his own?
For the Wolf Pack it was 6-6 Aussie freshman Daniel Foster, who himself made his season debut back on January 22nd against Wyoming. Since, he has made six consecutive starts, including this past weekend where he averaged 7.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.0 APG & 1.5 SPG. Not to mention a very clutch three-pointer that helped draw the Wolf Pack within striking distance on Friday night.
Mountain West Standings After the series:
1) San Diego State 19-4 (13-3)
2) Colorado State 15-4 (12-3)
3) Utah State 16-7 (13-4)
4) Boise State18-6 (14-5)
5) Nevada 14-9 (9-7)
6) UNLV 11-12 (8-8)
7) Fresno State 10-10 (8-10)
8) Wyoming 12-9 (6-8)
9) San Jose State 5-15 (3-13)
10) Air Force 5-18 (3-16)
11) New Mexico 6-14 (2-14)
The Wolf Pack were originally on the make up game schedule twice this week. But as the Spartans deal with covid-19 related issues in their program, their March 3rd single-game rescheduled matchup won’t take place.
Instead, they stay home and host Colorado State in the Lawlor Events Center on Friday at 6:00 PM PT/7:00 MT. This was one of the more hyped matchups that wasn’t played in recent weeks, so definitely something to keep an eye on this week.
The Aggies were also lucky enough to draw two games during make up week. First hosting the Wyoming Cowboys in Logan on Thursday, at 7:30 PM MT.
Then followed by a trip west to Fresno to take on the Bulldogs on Saturday, at 8:00 PM PT/9:00 PM MT. Both games will be televised on FS1 and both carry big weight for the Aggies to potentially rise up the conference standings.
Larry Muniz covers college basketball as a writer for Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. Also as a co-host of the college basketball podcast “Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry”. He is also a USWBA Member.