WBB Preview: Utah State Draws Boise State In First-Round Bout
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WBB Preview: Utah State Draws Boise State In First-Round Bout

Utah State WBB is in action from the MWC tournament tonight, hoping to extend its season with a win over sixth-seeded Boise State. WBB Preview:
WBB Preview: Utah State Draws Boise State In First-Round Bout
Photo via Boise State Athletics/Danny Swanstrom

“Everybody is 0-0 going into the tournament. Anything can happen… anybody can win it.” head coach Kayla Ard said.

The Mountain West tournament has finally arrived. Utah State, the No. 11 seed, will face off against Boise State, the No. 6 seed, at the Thomas and Mack as an early part of an epic 10-game showdown to crown the champion of the conference.

With a league record of 2-16, Utah State was assigned the last-place spot and drew the Broncos by way of a four-way tie at 10-8 – where Boise State was joined by Colorado State, Nevada and San Diego State.

Nevada earned the No. 4 seed and Colorado State the No. 5 spot. Both teams earned a bye through the first round and will face off against each other on Monday. San Diego State landed at the No. 7 seed and will play 10th-seeded San Jose State in the first round.

The Broncos are 19-12 (10-8) and ended their season on a three-game skid, losing to UNLV, Air Force and Colorado State down the stretch and falling after what had been an extremely strong start to their league campaign.

When Ard was asked about her goals going into the tournament she stayed rooted in reality. She also displayed a healthy dose of cautious optimism, but was careful not to set lofty expectations.

“We just want the kids to go down there and have a good experience," Ard said. "Does that come with a win? I hope so. Does it come with two wins? I’d love that… My ask of them is to just give everything they have. Go down there, give everything you have, (and) let yourself have fun playing the game you love. That's all I can ask for.”

Beating one team three times in a season can be tricky, but Boise State won’t have much trouble pulling it off if Utah State can't step up and perform far better than it has in the previous meetings between these two rivals. Neither outing was competitive, though one was quite a bit worse than the other. Utah State fell by 35 points in the first game, 76-41, and cut that down to 73-57 in the second.

Game one was played in Boise, and was wrapped up quickly. The Aggies got off to a satisfactory start before stumbling in the second frame and never recovering. Cheyenne Stubbs led the Aggies in scoring with 17 points while Dani Bayes came off the bench and led the Broncos with 16.

Game two was played on Utah State’s home court, and the Aggies cashed in the advantage enough to at least make the final margin a little nicer, losing this time by only 16 points. Again, they started well, staying in the game through the first half but eventually falling out of the contest in the second half. Utah State was outscored 21-6 in the third frame and had little to play for in the final period. Again Stubbs led Utah State, this time with 19 points. On the opposition’s side, Natalie Pasco led the way with 15 points.

To reverse that misfortune, Utah State will probably need to play its best four quarters of the season. It also likely needs Stubbs to lead the way, with a solid team effort behind her. Playing for three quarters won’t cut it against this Boise State team, as Utah State has learned in a pair of losses marred by one disastrous frame. In the first game, they were outscored just 48-35 outside of their dismal second quarter and in the second game, they were only outscored 52-51 outside of their third quarter. The Aggies can compete with these Broncos, but they haven't yet done it for the full 40 minutes.

Players To Know

Mya Hansen: Hansen is putting together a very nice sophomore campaign. She can score at all three levels and is the second-leading scorer for the Broncos this season behind only Pasco, emerging as a trusted go-to option on offense. She’s averaging 9.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, shooting 36.9 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from deep.

She had a pair of solid games against the Aggies, notching seven points, four rebounds and two assists in the first outing and following it with an even stronger showing in game No. 2, putting up 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a steal.

Abby Muse: Muse is Boise State’s enforcer in the post. She can bring a level of play to both ends of the floor that is difficult to keep up with. She's far and away the conference’s shot-blocking leader, rejecting 2.8 attempts per game to garner a wide margin from two players in a tie for second place, Sydney Mech and Charlotte Kohl at 1.5 BPG.

In addition to the conference-topping blocks, she also averages 7.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game, leading the Broncos on the boards and checking in at No. 2 in the league behind UNLV's Desi-Rae Young.

Muse has not been kind to the Aggies this season, recording 15 points, two rebounds, an assist and a steal in 15 minutes of play in her first game, and nine points, 11 rebounds, a steal and four blocks in her second.

Natalie Pasco: The high-scoring guard has become the engine that moves the Boise State offense. She has great scoring abilities and has shown the Aggies that firsthand, shooting 40.1 percent from the field, 81.1 percent from the free-throw line and 39.7 percent from behind the arc on the year.

By her high standards, she had a somewhat quiet game the first time she played Utah State this season with nine points, one rebound and four steals. The second time around, she was much more comfortable and had 15 points, one rebound, and one assist.

On the season, Pasco is averaging 13.4 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game.

Stats To Know

Rebound Rate: Muse leads the rebounding campaign for Boise State, but she is surrounded by talented rebounders. Muse’s 8.5 per game is followed by Trista Hull's 5.1, Elodie Lalotte’s 4.4, Mary Kay Naro’s 3.7, Tatum Thompson’s 3.4 and Hansen's 3.0.

The Broncos are collecting 31.4 percent of their available offensive rebounds and 73.4 percent of their defensive rebounds, claiming an overall rebound rate of 52.7 percent. That ranks 68th nationally, formed by the No. 169 offensive rebounding unit and the No. 40 group on defense.

Utah State grabs 33.8 rebounds per game for a total rebound rate of 46.6 percent, and will likely have a hard time on the boards against the Broncos. If the Aggies can break from that trend and compete a bit more on the boards, they will be doing themselves a massive favor.

Block Rate: Once again led by Muse, the Broncos are an adept shot-blocking team. The Broncos swat six shots a game and have a block rate of 15.1 percent – both of those numbers are third-best in the country.

Muse isn’t alone in her efforts. She is primarily aided by Hull, who blocks 1.3 shots per game, but behind the leaders, many of the players on this team can get up and block a shot when needed. This aggressive and well-executed defense makes it very hard to shoot, let alone score, against the Broncos.

Three-Point Shooting %: It's been a point of emphasis with Boise State all year long, but it's worth repeating: The Broncos are excellent three-point shooters. Pasco, Bayes and Hansen anchor the attack from deep, combining to knock down 5.2 triples per game on 38.2 percent shooting.

With three reliable shooters, the Broncos can spread a defense dangerously thin and strike from multiple angles, which is made far more lethal by the constant presence of Muse on the interior. A defense that sells out to stop the three is liable to suffer at her hands in the post, while focusing on slowing her down is a great way to open the floodgates from beyond the arc.

As a team, Boise State is shooting 34.8 percent from deep and is earning 31.7 percent of its points from behind the arc. Utah State is among the worst three-point shooting defenses in the country, ranking 338th in percentage of points allowed from deep (33.3 percent), which bore out in the first two meetings between these two. The Broncos are shooting a combined 24 of 59 from three against the Aggies this season (40.7 percent), accounting for 57 points of difference from beyond the arc when compared to Utah State's 5-of-39 shooting performance in those outings.

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