WBB Preview: Utah State And Air Force Prepare For First Bout
5 min read

WBB Preview: Utah State And Air Force Prepare For First Bout

Utah State WBB tips off a doubleheader in the Spectrum this afternoon, drawing Air Force for the first meeting of the two sides this season. Preview:
WBB Preview: Utah State And Air Force Prepare For First Bout

Utah State gets a slight change of scenery this weekend, playing an opponent it has yet to face this season as it hosts Air Force. Having finally tasted victory in conference play just three games ago, the Aggies will be eager to get back in the win column, this time on their home court. The Falcons had two wins in a row, Colorado State and San Jose State, before slipping to Nevada, so they're looking to shake off the loss and regain some momentum. Utah State is 4-18 (1-10) and Air Force is 11-13 (4-7) on the year.

The Falcons aren't too far above the Aggies in the Mountain West standings, which puts them solidly in the bottom half of the league. Under head coach Chris Gobrecht, in her ninth year in command, the Falcons have struggled to gain much traction this season. Any struggles suffered by the Falcons, however, have been matched and exceeded by the Aggies, who have achieved just a single conference victory.

Granted, both teams look far more talented on paper than their records would indicate. Air Force has worn that a bit better this season, building a cohesive game plan around the players on its roster – something the Aggies haven’t really managed. It’s a fallible game plan to be sure, leaving the Falcons below .500, but it’s still a game plan.

In Milahnie Perry and Madison Smith, the Falcons have two players with the potential for 30-point games. Behind them, they have at least a handful of others who can pitch in. The Falcons are disciplined, well-coached, and skilled, as usual.

Players To Know 

Jayda McNabb: McNabb is a solid post-player. She’s listed as a guard but plays much bigger than her 5-10 frame, averaging 6.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.7 steals a game.

She tends to be pretty reliable on the glass, but her scoring is prone to some waxing and waning. She’s coming off a scoreless game against Nevada, one of three this year for the freshman. Her scoring has been down a bit lately in general, as she scored 10 points at Wyoming, followed by outings of four, six, five, and zero points in her next four games. Part of her issue is that she isn’t particularly efficient, shooting just 35.1 percent from the field.

She's solid beyond that, consistently grabbing rebounds and notching assists around her season averages.

Her prowess in the post can be a bit deceiving, however. Just because she works well on the glass doesn’t mean she can't produce on the perimeter, and in her first year of college basketball, McNabb is already shaping up to be a fantastic three-point shooter. She only has 36 attempts on the season, but in that small sample size, she is shooting 38.9 percent. 

Milahnie Perry: From Tampa, just across the bay from Bradenton – the hometown of Aggie star Cheyenne Stubbs – hails Perry. The sophomore is, beyond just her home state, quite a bit like Stubbs.

She's a little undersized at 5-7, but more than makes up for it with electric offensive skills, averaging 16.2 points per game, a tick higher than Stubbs at 15.9 PPG. She isn’t quite the rebounder that Stubbs is, pulling down 2.4 a game while Stubbs pulls down 4.0, but Perry again covers up that weakness with strength elsewhere, averaging 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals per contest.

Not only is Perry talented, but she is on a serious hot streak. She’s coming off a 30-point tear against Nevada and is averaging 20.6 points over her last five games. During that stretch, she is shooting 51.3 percent from the field, 65.0 percent from behind the arc and 85.7 percent from the line, while averaging 3.8 assists and surrendering just 2.0 turnovers per game.

In her game against Nevada, she earned her 30 points by shooting 10 of 20 from the field, and an impressive 4 of 5 from behind the arc. She was also 6 of 7 from the free-throw line, adding four rebounds, an assist, three steals and two blocks.

Madison Smith: If Perry is comparable to Stubbs, then Smith is someone with no equivalent on the Utah State roster. The second leading scorer for the Falcons, she is averaging 11.3 points per game – Utah State’s second-leading scorer, Ivory Finley, is good for 7.0 PPG.

Smith isn’t just a sidekick or a second option behind Perry, either. She's a high-caliber scorer, and just like Perry, she's capable of dropping 30 points as needed, which she proved with 31 points on the road against Colorado State. If a team somehow manages to stop Perry, Smith can step right into her place as a No. 1 scoring option.

Much of that comes from her accuracy as a shooter. Smith is hitting 41 percent of her tries from the field – too good to be left alone, and made even more dangerous when she is surrounded by players like McNabb, Perry, Keelie O’Hollaren and Dasha Macmillian.

Smith is also second on the team for rebounds and steals, pitching in 5.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 2.4 steals a game.

Stats To Know

Steal Rate: Most of Air Force's stats are pretty middle of the road, but one thing the Falcons do at elite level is steal the ball. They have the 10th-best steal rate in the nation, snatching 11.0 steals a game with a steal rate of 13.6 percent.

This could be more than a little annoying for the Aggies, who already have a propensity to get pickpocketed and have struggled with turnovers universally this season. No matter the opponent or the defensive scheme they face, the Aggies just have a hard time keeping the ball. Utah State is already giving away over a quarter of its possessions, with a turnover rate of 25.7 percent.

Rebounding Rate: Utah State will likely have a hard time keeping the ball away from the thieving Falcons, but could make up some ground on the glass. The Falcons tout a dreadful total rebound rate of 45.5 percent, which presents a major opportunity for the Aggies.

Though they've suffered through an ever-changing identity in the frontcourt, the talent is certainly there to garner an advantage. A staple of that group has been Samiana Suguturaga, who has shone in her role as a starter lately. When paired with star freshman Gracie Johnson, fellow freshman Lauren Crocker, Bridget Mulings, Allyzee Verdan and some help from the backcourt, the Aggies could beat the Falcons on the boards and earn some much-needed second chances.

Utah State has a total rebound rate of 47.3 percent, which is still pretty lackluster on its own, but remains a few steps ahead of the Falcons. Winning that battle would be a huge step in the right direction for Utah State to notch its second league victory on Saturday afternoon.

Parker Ballantyne covers Utah State women's basketball for The Aggship. You can follow him on Twitter at @PShark14 for updates on the Aggies.