Utah State is headed to Reno for its first rematch of the season. The Aggies will face Nevada, with their eyes set on both revenge and their long-awaited first Mountain West victory.
It was downright ugly for Utah State when these two last met, as Nevada pulled away to an 89-44 blowout victory with a dominant second-half performance. The game plan, if there was one at all, did not work. Star guard Cheyenne Stubbs had a slow game, scoring just six points, as Skye Miller's eight points were enough to lead all Aggie scorers.
At times this season, Utah State has lost games that came with a bright spot – a glimmer of hope, or perhaps even a premonition of the team’s potential. This was not one of those games. It made Utah State look rudderless and lost, without any clear sense of pride or purpose. The Aggies are hoping to avoid the same fate in their rematch with the Wolf Pack.
Nevada has played three games since the last matchup, while Utah State has played just two. Nevada toppled Fresno State and earned a huge win over Colorado State before falling to UNLV in its last outing, moving to 11-10 (5-3) on the season, while Utah State dropped bouts with Boise State and San Diego State to fall to 3-16 (0-8).
Given both the full season resumes and recent momentum, the Wolf Pack will be heavily favored against the struggling Aggies on Wednesday night, and rightfully so. Reno can be an unforgiving place to play, and Nevada touts a 6-4 record at home with those recent wins over the Bulldogs and Rams, as part of an overall 5-2 surge since the calendar turned over to 2024.
However, a game from Stubbs, who performed well below her high standards last game, could help level the playing field. An unfortunate personnel change for Nevada also puts the Wolf Pack in a less desirable situation – Nevada will be without the services of Claire Jacobs who scored a game-high 18 points when the two teams faced off in the Spectrum. Jacobs, who was Nevada’s second-leading scorer on the year, recently suffered a season-ending foot injury. There's still a gap in quality between the sides, but Utah State has overachieved on the road before.
Players To Know
Audrey Roden: Roden is again one to watch. She had a quiet night when she last played the Aggies, but it would be unwise to count on it again. On her trip to Logan, Roden got into foul trouble early and ended up playing only 12 minutes. Unable to get into any sort of rhythm, the standout went just 1 of 3 from the field, scoring only four points but still dishing out five assists.
With that said, this Nevada team does face foul trouble often, and Roden is no exception. She had four fouls in her next game, the win over Fresno State, and fouled out against UNLV in her most recent game (although she scored 16 points on her way out).
If she can stay out of foul trouble, she's a very different player – which means a very different Wolf Pack squad. The Aggies couldn’t keep up when they largely didn’t have Roden, which doesn't bode especially well if she can stay on the floor.
The junior guard is a talented scorer with a strong interior game and a three-point shot that can’t be ignored. And, on a team that struggles to get to the line, she's one of few players who reliably finds her way to the stripe, making her a crafty scorer who can get on the board in different ways.
As the centerpiece of the offense, Roden is asked to take on a lot of volume. She is averaging 12.1 shots per game, hitting 37.3 percent of her tries from the field and 22.0 percent from beyond the arc. Those aren't great splits, but Nevada needs a standout scorer (especially with Jacobs out for the remainder of the season) and finds it with No. 4. Roden is averaging 12.1 points per game, adding 3.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game. She's tied with Lexie Givens and Dymonique Maxie in assists and leads the team in steals.
Lexie Givens: Someone who very much did not have a quiet night against the Aggies was Givens. The senior forward torched the Aggies, tying her season-high of 13 points, well above her then-average of 7.5 PPG.
Alongside Roden, she anchors the team – Roden takes care of the scoring while Givens handles just about everything else. Those two not only account for a huge bulk of Nevada's production, but also represent a major part of the team’s identity. Givens is a veteran presence on the court who facilitates and executes the Wolf Pack game plan on both ends of the floor.
When she came to Logan, she had been suffering a pretty poor shooting season and was shooting just 31 percent from the field. Playing the Aggies seemed to get Givens back on the right track, at least for a while. She shot 60 percent against Utah State, then had back-to-back 66.7 percent performances against Fresno State and Colorado State before sliding to a 25 percent night against UNLV. Now, she is shooting 33.7 percent – still below her 42.9 percent career average, but a step in the right direction.
As well-rounded as they come, Givens is averaging 7.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks per game, and sits atop the team in rebounds, assists and blocks.
Victoria Davis: Another player who seemed to enjoy playing against the Aggies was Davis. She shot 5 of 6 from the field and 3 of 4 from behind the arc, earning 13 points – which, at the time, tied her season high.
She has since passed that mark, in a heroic performance against Colorado State. Her first time leading the team in scoring all season, she scored 21 points and willed the Wolf Pack past a very good Rams team in a convincing 78-51 victory, going 7 of 12 from the field and 5 of 8 from deep with four rebounds and five assists.
She came back to earth in her previous outing, but is still dangerous. On the season she is shooting 32.4 percent from behind the arc, but she’s heating up, shooting 62.5 percent from deep since the last matchup with Utah State. Even since opening the Mountain West slate, now eight games ago, she is shooting 41.3 percent from three, averaging 9.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists in league play.
Stats To Know
Free Throw Rate: If Utah State plays it right, there could be a pretty large free-throw discrepancy in favor of the Aggies. Nevada does not get to the line often, but does frequently send opponents to the stripe, carrying a free throw rate of 13.0 percent, most of which comes from Roden.
On the other end, this aggressive defense sends opponents to the line frequently, allowing an 18.5 percent free-throw rate that ranks 275th nationally.
Utah State is, in theory, equipped to take advantage. The Aggies have been good at getting to the line, earning a 19.3 percent free-throw rate, but they need to cut back on their own fouls to really garner an advantage here. USU's 18.7 percent defensive free-throw rate ranks even lower than Nevada's, checking in at No. 281.
Rebound Rate: Nevada does not rebound the ball well. The Aggies have struggled on the boards as well, but there is an opportunity for progress here – one which Utah State needs to take if it wants to compete in Reno.
One hope on this front is the continued emergence of freshman center Gracie Johnson, who has been very strong on the glass in limited minutes. On the year, Nevada is 263rd in total rebound rate (47.7 percent), which is still enough to edge out the Aggies at No. 287 (46.8 percent).
Assist Rate: Like Utah State’s, Nevada’s offense does not rely on assisted shots. Nevada has an assisted shot rate of 48.3 percent, slightly higher than Utah State's 45.8 percent.
The major difference between the way the two teams pass the ball is that Nevada can complete a pass – which has been an issue all season for the Aggies. Nevada's 17.2 percent turnover rate is among the better marks in the league (62nd nationally), and hardly compares to Utah State's dreadful 25.1 percent rate (349th). Nevada doesn't load up on assists as a matter of offensive strategy, relying on solid isolation scorers. Utah State doesn’t because it can’t.
A player to watch here for the Wolf Pack is Maxie, the 5-8 freshman guard. She's still learning where she fits into this team and developing her game, but she’s doing so in a hurry – which is badly needed with Jacobs sidelined. Maxie isn't much of a scorer yet, but she's averaging 2.1 assists on the year, and does well to find the primary scorers within her offense.
Parker Ballantyne covers Utah State women's basketball for The Aggship. You can follow him on Twitter at @PShark14 for updates on the Aggies.