WBB Preview: Utah State And San Jose State Seek Second MWC Victory
6 min read

WBB Preview: Utah State And San Jose State Seek Second MWC Victory

Utah State and San Jose State face off tonight with both teams seeking their second MWC win of the season, and a chance to move away from 11th place in the league. WBB Preview:
WBB Preview: Utah State And San Jose State Seek Second MWC Victory
Photo via San Jose State Athletics

If Utah State has a chance at claiming another conference win, it’s fleeting. But, the Aggies have two winnable games in their next three tries – San Jose State and Air Force are Utah State’s two closest neighbors at the bottom of the Mountain West standings, and the one-win Spartans are on the docket Wednesday night.

San Jose State is very vulnerable and, other than Utah State, is the weakest team in the conference. If there's a time for the Aggies to claim a second league win, this is it. The Spartans have not won since they dispatched the Aggies in the Spectrum, 69-54. That wasn’t just San Jose State's last conference victory, but its only conference victory.

So this race to two conference wins – a mark every other team has eclipsed – is not only that, but a battle for last place with the loser likely being stuck in the bottom spot for the remainder of the season.

The Spartans are coming off a 15-point loss to their Northern California foe, Fresno State, while Utah State is coming off a 28-point loss to the Southern California Mountain West installment, San Diego State. San Jose State is 6-19 (1-12) and Utah State is 4-21 (1-13).

The last time the two teams met, Jyah LoVett led the way for the Spartans while Cheyenne Stubbs did her best to match the performance of her opposing floor general. She came up short, as LoVett had 21 points, two rebounds, four assists and three steals while Stubbs had 17 points, three rebounds, four assists and a steal.

Like the Aggies, the Spartans have had a dismal year that is juxtaposed with some valiant individual performances. Players like Amhyia Moreland, Sydni Summers, Sabrina Ma, Jasmine Singleton, and of course, LoVett have, at times, appeared to play at a level higher than the 6-19 record, but it just never come together for the team.

LoVett, who has been out with an apparent leg injury, has not played since a game at San Diego State on Jan. 20. If she plays, which seems unlikely, she is certainly a player to watch. If not, other players can step up in her absence. It’s a difficult task, given the freshman’s elite two-way proficiency, but basketball is a team sport after all.

Players To Know

Marisa Davis-Jones: Davis-Jones is a sporadic scorer capable of 17 points at times, and at others, coming up nearly empty-handed. In her second year at San Jose State after transferring from Washington, the junior is still trying to find her place at this time. Her scoring assignment has varied throughout the year, preventing her from finding a defined role and getting into a rhythm, but she has made it work.

Her 7.5 PPG average is good enough for the fourth-highest on the team, and when she gets rolling, she can be difficult to stop. She has relied on some big games to maintain that average, and her first game against Utah State was one of them. She came off the bench and scored 13 points on only six shot attempts while adding seven rebounds and five assists as well. On the season, she is averaging 7.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.

Sabrina Ma: San Jose State has nominated Ma as its primary three-point shooter and it has gotten just about everything it could have hoped for out of her. She is a 31.8 percent three-point shooter and knocks down an average of 1.9 threes per game. She’s scoring 9.2 points per game, with 4.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.2 steals to bolster her production.

Despite shooting just 2 of 8 from deep, she managed to hang 12 points on the Aggies. She also had three rebounds, one assist and four steals, making the Aggies pay on both ends of the court.

Freshman Sydni Summers is a bit more accurate from deep, shooting 34.4 percent, but is a step behind Ma in playing time and attempts. For now, Ma is still the team leader, but with a young Summers behind her, the Spartans are likely in good hands for a while. In the meantime, the two combine for 16 points per game.

Ma isn’t the first option or the leading scorer for SJSU, but that can be deceiving. She can collect points as well as anyone on the team, and can do so in a hurry. She's also reliable for a timely three, giving San Jose State’s offense a boost just when it needs it most.

Amhyia Moreland: Moreland has become the motor of the San Jose State squad. She is the second-leading scorer on the Spartans, but her scoring is only one part of what makes her so valuable. She's also the team leader in rebounds and blocks, and maintains a team-high 58.2 percent hit rate from the field. Her ability to fire up the offense and anchor the defense makes her a crucial piece of the team and a worthy leader.

On the defensive end, she's a borderline star, tied with Charlotte Kohl for second to Abby Muse for most blocks per game in the Mountain West.

Even though she was far from first in line on offense, she left little doubt about her ability when she came to Logan. She had 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, dominating in the paint. She plays a game that makes her opponents feel her, and the Aggies certainly did.

Out of necessity, she has stepped up her scoring volume without LoVett in the rotation. In her last two outings, against San Diego State and then New Mexico, she scored 18 and 19 points, and is averaging 12.7 points per game during LoVett's extended absence. For the year, Moreland is averaging 12.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game/

Stats To Know

Turnover Percentage: Both of these teams turn the ball over a lot. San Jose State averages 21.3 turnovers a game for a turnover rate of 26.6 percent, which might feel familiar to Utah State fans, because the Aggies turn the ball over 19.3 times per game for a turnover rate of 24.4 percent.

With both teams giving the ball away about a quarter of the time, this game could look pretty sloppy at times, and the turnover battle could prove crucial. Possessions that don’t end with a giveaway may be at a premium, so cutting back on turnovers and collecting those extra scoring opportunities could give one team an edge.

To be fair to the Spartans, the turnover-heavy game they play cuts both ways. They turn the ball over far more than their fair share, but they also generate a lot of steals. They average 8.4 steals for a steal rate of 10.7 percent, well ahead of Utah State at 6.6 steals per game and a 7.8 percent steal rate.

Foul Rate: One way to explain the Spartans is that they lack discipline, and that doesn’t end with turning the ball over. They foul more often than just about any other team in the country, playing an aggressive brand of defense that often catches up to them. San Jose State averages 19.1 fouls per game for a foul rate of 24.4 percent, 347th nationally.

Opponents of San Jose State enjoy a free throw rate of 20.2 percent and are attempting over 17 free throws a game, which is good news for a Utah State offense that generates a good number of trips to the line even without the help of a lackluster opposing defense, ranking 50th in the same category.

Block Rate: It's not all bad for San Jose State. There are a few things the team does well, and rim protection probably leads that charge. Paired with the team's steals, blocks play a significant part in San Jose State's aggressive defense. 

With Morehead buoying the interior defense and averaging 1.6 blocks per game, the Spartans are swatting three shots a night. After Morehead, it is a mixed effort with Ma and Semaj Smith leading the rest of the pack. They boast a block rate of 9.4 percent, 90th nationally. Given the team’s record, it's an impressive achievement.

Utah State is similarly strong in blocking shots, touting a 9.7 percent block rate, but the Aggies have struggled quite a bit this season to avoid the trees in the paint. They're allowing a 9.8 percent block rate, which ranks 307th nationally and doesn't exactly bode well for tonight's contest. If you like points, it may not be the game for you.

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