WBB Preview: On The Road Again, Utah State Draws Stout Boise State Side
5 min read

WBB Preview: On The Road Again, Utah State Draws Stout Boise State Side

It's a tough test this afternoon for the badly slumping Aggies, as they head north to take on one of the Mountain West's best teams in Boise State. WBB Preview:
WBB Preview: On The Road Again, Utah State Draws Stout Boise State Side
Photo via Boise State Athletics

Utah State, searching for a way to shift gears in the second half of the season, will head to Boise State as it continues to hunt for its first win since November. The Aggies (3-14, 0-6) have yet to win a conference game this year and are on an 11-game losing streak, and contrary to those ice-cold Aggies, the Broncos (12-6, 3-2) appear to be heating up.

Led by longtime head coach Gordy Presnell, Boise State is a solid team, as it has been throughout his nearly two decades at the helm – stout on defense, tough on the boards and capable on offense behind a strong three-point shooting attack. After a brief rough patch, dropping five of seven games following a 6-1 start to the year, the Broncos have rebounded nicely, toppling New Mexico, San Diego State and San Jose State consecutively to stake out its current three-game winning streak.

As usual, the Broncos stack up favorably in the Mountain West – they've finished within the top six of the league standings nine times in the last 10 years, including six top-three placements. In the NET Rankings, Boise State is just behind the UNLV-Colorado State-Wyoming triple threat at the top, with a ranking of 129th.

Playing the Broncos on their home court won’t be easy. Boise State has an impressive 8-1 record at home, with their lone slip-up coming by one point against Nevada, 58-57. Utah State, notably, just fell to the Wolf Pack at home by 45 points.

Players To Know

Mary Kay Naro: Naro is a fourth-year starter for the Broncos, and her veteran presence plays no small part in the team's success.

A textbook leader, Naro prioritizes that role over her output, playing as a selfless distributor at point guard and leading the team in assists with 4.7 per game, which is third in the Mountain West. In her last game, she played 32 minutes without a single field goal attempt, but recorded four rebounds, five assists and a steal. That’s her kind of outing. She can score as needed, but it isn't often needed with the weapons around her, so she instead uses her ability as a passer, rebounder and defender to free up her teammates as scorers.

She rarely takes more than a handful of shots per game, averaging 5.4 field goal attempts and 5.1 points, while adding 4.1 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.

Abby Muse: Muse is a crucial part of Boise State's terrific defense. Her prowess has again guided her to the top of the team in rebounds, steals and blocks, as it has throughout her time in Boise. She’s a seasoned utility player who can do a little bit of everything – or, more accurately, who can do a lot of everything. She's had three double-doubles on the season, along with a healthy amount of near misses.

As well-rounded a player as Utah State has seen this year, Muse is averaging 7.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.5 blocks, 1.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game. She leads the MWC in both rebounds and blocks, and is the second-leading shot blocker in the NCAA behind only Lucy Cochrane of Portland (3.6 BPG).

Natalie Pasco: Paired beside the Swiss army knife Muse and the pass-first Naro, Pasco is tasked primarily with filling up the basket. It's a role she fills quite well, averaging 13.8 points a night to lead the Broncos by a wide margin. Mya Hansen is the next leading scorer with 8.6 PPG, and the rest of the team follows that figure closely.

Pasco is dangerous from anywhere on the floor, but she's particularly destructive from deep. She is shooting 43.8 percent from the field and a near-identical 43.7 percent from behind the arc, knocking down an average of 2.5 three-pointers every contest, which is tied with New Mexico’s Viane Cumber for second-most in the Mountain West, behind only Alyssa Durazo-Frescas out of UNLV (who hits 2.7 a night).

Her season-high is a frightening 27 points scored against San Diego, in which she went 9 of 20 from the field and a staggering 6 of 12 from three. She also had two assists and a steal, but as is the case in most of her games, the bulk of her contribution was from her pure scoring skills.

Slowing Pasco down isn’t easy, and off-nights are rare for the sophomore. Since getting into the Mountain West portion of the season, she has averaged 14.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.0 steals per contest.

Stats To Know

Defensive Efficiency: Just about every part of this Boise State defense is rock-solid, hence its litany of top-100 national rankings in essentially every defensive statistical category.

Leading the charge is the rim protection, led by the fearsome Muse. The Broncos block 16 percent of their opponents' two-point attempts, the third-highest block rate in the country, picking up a little extra help off the bench in the form of 6-2 junior Trista Hull.

If Utah State does get the shot off, it is shooting 44.6 percent on two-pointers and 38.8 percent from the field this season, and it better hope the first try falls – because against Boise State, the Aggies won’t be getting many of those misses back. The Broncos are excellent defensive rebounders, hoarding 74.5 percent of their opportunities to check in at No. 26 nationally.

That rebounding aptitude extends to the other side of the floor as well, where they grab 11.8 offensive rebounds per outing, logging a total rebound rate of 54.5 percent, which is 38th in CBB.

Assist Rate: The Broncos move the ball at a high level, and score off assists more often than they don’t. Their assisted shot rate is 66.1 percent, one of the highest in the country (19th). They have struggled with turnovers at times, checking in at No. 206 with a 20.1 percent turnover rate, but Utah State hasn't been especially ambitious in forcing those sorts of mistakes this season.

Naro leads the way, but she's far from alone in her selfless ways, as Boise State's offense is designed around ball movement to create high-percentage looks, either at the rim or beyond the arc. Hansen is averaging 3.4 assists per game, and Dani Bayes, Muse and Pasco are all assisting on at least a shot a night.

Three-Point Shooting Percentage: Boise State is a superlative three-point shooting team. Led in both attempts and shooting percentage by Pasco, the team is knocking down 36.2 percent of its three-pointers and picking up 32.9 percent of its points from beyond the arc, ranking 32nd and 64th respectively. Utah State is nowhere near that figure, shooting only 25.9 percent from deep and leaving a gulch between it and Boise State.

While Cheyenne Stubbs is the only Aggie knocking down at least one triple per game (she’s hitting 1.6), there are three Broncos good for at least one a night –Pasco, Bayes (1.4) and Hansen (1.3).

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