WBB Preview: Aggies Play Host To Frenetic Boise State Side
It's hard to say with any confidence that Boise State's three wins in its last four games are reflective of a jelling roster. The Broncos have doubled their win total since Dec. 12, but they've done it against non-DI Evergreen State, a 4-10 Texas A&M Commerce team and San Jose State – the only MWC team with a worse Her Hoop Stats rating than Utah State. Among this bundle of wins also came a loss to UTRGV and a canceled matchup against San Diego State, which would have been heavily favored against the Broncos.
Take that as a sign of improvement at your own risk. The Broncos, recent success or not, will enter the Spectrum on Saturday afternoon as the No. 9 team (again per HHS rating) in a less-than-stellar Mountain West. They're comfortably ahead of Utah State and San Jose State, but they're similarly entrenched behind the next tier of conference teams (Fresno State and Nevada).
For Utah State, that sounds like an opportunity. The Aggies have lost six consecutive games, including three by 30-plus points in their last four appearances, and desperately need to change those fortunes. A home game against an unproven Boise State side with freshmen in four of its six rotational backcourt spots is as good a chance as Utah State will have, at least until its Jan. 21.
Stakes are few and far between when a team is 3-11, but this matchup has legitimate importance for the Aggies – if they can't get it done on Saturday afternoon, when will they?
Players To Know
Mya Hansen: What a start for the 5-9 freshman from Billings. Hansen has adjusted to the college game as well as Boise State could have hoped for, especially as a point guard – easily the most difficult position to helm as a true freshman. She's logged 12 starts in 14 appearances, falling out of the top five in late November before re-establishing herself with an unbelievable performance against BYU, scoring 31 points on 8-of-15 shooting (4 of 7 from three, 11 of 11 at the stripe) and adding a pair of assists.
Her standard performance hasn't quite hit that level, but she's still averaging 9.9 points per game (third on the team) on 47.9 percent from the field, 45.5 percent from three and 94.4 percent at the free-throw line. Her 2.4 assists per game trail only backcourt-mate Mary Kay Naro (3.5 APG) and her defense is decisively above average, though she is prone to mistakes at times.
The same is true on the other end, where her 30 turnovers (2.1 TPG) lead the roster – although barely, with 29 from Naro, 28 from Elodie Lalotte and Abby Muse and 26 from Dani Bayes. For the most part, though, Hansen has looked the part in adjusting to the college game. She's not a burgeoning superstar like Asia Avinger or an arrived superstar like McKenna Hofschild – making this a welcome reprieve for Maria Carvalho and Utah State – but she's a solidly above-average Mountain West point guard and a vast overachiever for it.
Elodie Lalotte: Lallotte's ascent to the upper echelon of MWC forwards is here. She's been a solid contributor at Boise State since 2020, but she tended to disappear from games despite an extremely diverse and dangerous offensive skillset.
Bouts of inconsistency still plague her game at times, but Lalotte has raised her ceiling and her baseline during her third season as a Bronco. She's averaging a career-high 11.2 points per game – enough to lead Boise State in scoring – while knocking down 50.4 percent of her field goals. This offense is lacking a true go-to player, but Lalotte is the closest to fitting that billing. When the Broncos need a basket, they'll go to her.
She's not as impactful a rebounder or defender as her frontcourt partner, though 6.4 rebounds per game with the second-best defensive rating on the team is plenty to praise. Boise State's backcourt has plenty to still work through, but its starting pairing at power forward and center is entrenched and rock solid.
Abby Muse: No one in the Mountain West is blocking shots with more consistency or ferocity than Muse. The 6-3 junior has been a force at the rim since she stepped on campus, earning an MWC All-Freshman nod in 2020-21, but she's never dispatched shots at the rate she's held through 14 games this season. With a league-best 8.6 percent block rate, Muse has already notched 35 blocks – three short of her season total last year and five fewer than her final figure as a freshman.
In fact, her play in the post has her ranked among the nation's elite shot blockers. Only 35 college basketball players have a block rate above 8.0 percent this season, and only 23 tick that box while maintaining a personal foul rate under 6.0 percent (Muse is at 5.8 percent).
So, not only is she immovable at the rim; she's smart in how she attacks shots to avoid early exits. Muse fouls plenty, averaging more than three a game, but she does it within the flow of the game. Only four of those qualified 23 shot blockers are playing more minutes per game than Muse (26.6). Boise State needs her on the floor, and she's doing a great job of holding up her end of that deal.
Her offense isn't quite so splashy, though she's plenty valuable on that end. She's shooting 49.5 percent from the field and averaging 10.0 points per game while pitching in a team-high 9.0 rebounds per game (2.7 ORB). Take all of that in as a statistical profile, and Muse's case is difficult to argue against. She's the most balanced center in the Mountain West and belongs comfortably in the conversation among the best two-way centers in college basketball.
Is she Stanford's Cameron Brink, South Carolina's Kamilla Cardoso, Kansas' Taiyanna Jackson or Iowa State's Stephanie Soares? No. But Muse is just about on par with the next tier of centers nationally, alongside players like USC's Rayah Marshall – who dominated Utah State to the tune of 18 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and three steals on Nov. 26. And she's more than capable of taking over Saturday's game if Utah State can't find ways around her.
Stats To Know
Offensive Rebound Rate: The nearest thing to a strength-on-strength matchup in this game will probably come on the glass. Boise State (104th) is a far better offensive rebounding team than Utah State (274th), but the Aggies have been consistently good at keeping their opponents off the offensive boards (102nd). Boise State, though still above average, is a decent step below Utah State in its defensive rebounding efforts (158th).
That's the kind of battle that, with a strong performance, Utah State could win. Carvalho, Prima Chellis, Mayson Kimball, Ashya Klopfenstein, Olivia Mason, Tamiah Robinson, Abby Wahl and Olivia Wikstrom all have individual rebound rates above 8.0 percent. The Aggies need that bunch to be on their game against Boise State – especially without Mason, who missed the Colorado State game with an unspecified issue and will not return for this bout.
Assist %: Boise State's excellent defense is built around its rim protectors, but far from depending on them exclusively. The Broncos don't force many turnovers (306th in forced turnover percentage), but they're fantastic at denying passes and forcing offenses into far more individual play than they'd prefer. Boise State's 45.0 percent assist percentage allowed is the 23rd-lowest in CBB.
There are plays to be made against this defense, and weaknesses to attack. Hansen and Naro aren't especially strong on the ball, Bayes has been gashed by aggressive wingers several times this season and this bench is dreadful defensively. Teams with strong isolation scorers and ample three-point shooting (more on that in a moment) can take advantage of that. Does Utah State fit that billing? In theory, yes. In practice? No. Not yet.
Three Point Field Goal %: If Utah State is going to pull off the upset on Saturday, it will do so because of a breakthrough from beyond the arc. The Aggies have flirted with being a good three-point shooting team this season and enter this game with a top-100 three-point shooting offense (97th). However, they've struggled to parlay their talent from deep into consistency from deep.
They knocked down nine triples (tied for second-most in a game this season) in each of their last two games, but did so on 24 and 26 attempts, respectively. It's been more than a month since back-to-back outings with 10 three-pointers against Weber State and Utah Valley, carrying Utah State to victories in both games.
Utah State has to find the shots first, which is easier said than done against a defense allowing a very low three-point rate (46th), but this would be a great time to match those efforts. Boise State has one of the worst three-point defenses in the country (341st) and doesn't shoot anywhere near well enough to match a great day from beyond the arc for the Aggies. Carvalho, Kimball, and Wikstrom have been the guiding forces for this perimeter offense before, and have to be again on Saturday for Utah State to get back into the win column.
It sure wouldn't hurt to get Kinley Falslev-Wickizer, Cris Oliva or Robinson involved, too. They've combined to shoot just 9 for 35 from deep since the Eastern Washington game – bolstered almost entirely by Falslev-Wickizer's 7 of 20 run of form.
Utah State is capable of winning this game, and that's an improvement from the Colorado State and San Diego State games. The path to victory is thin, depending on Utah State's perimeter shooting, rebounding and ability to avoid Boise State's shot-blocking colossi, but it is there. Boise State doesn't force a lot of turnovers, doesn't shoot especially well and doesn't have a ton of answers in the backcourt. That's all good news for Utah State.
It's a favorable matchup, at home, against one of the youngest teams in the Mountain West. To an optimist, it's a golden opportunity. The pessimist agrees, with an addendum: The Aggies cannot afford to let it slip away.
Boise State 67