Utah State will tip off a two-game in-state road trip at BYU on Tuesday afternoon, with a battle at Utah Valley slated for Saturday. It's comfortably the least forgiving two-game stretch of the season thus far for the Aggies, who already had plenty on their place as they look to recover from a 70-43 home loss to Idaho.
Cheyenne Stubbs continues to anchor the Aggies, leading the offense in scoring across each of the last six games, including a 13-point outing against the Vandals. On that end of the floor, the Aggies have found but one path to victory – which sees Stubbs leading the way, supported by scoring efforts from Ivory Finley and Skye Miller. When those three have finished atop the stat sheet, Utah State is 3-0. When any member of the trio is removed from the equation, the Aggies are 0-4.
Outside of that scoring structure, there hasn’t been much of a distinguishable pattern in Utah State’s victories so far. The Aggies beat Weber State in the rebounding battle, but fell short of both Kansas City and Warner Pacific in winning efforts on the scoreboard. It would certainly help the Aggies to cut down on their turnovers, but that too hasn’t been exactly indicative of victory – they had 22 turnovers against Kansas City, 18 against Weber State and 20 in the win over Warner Pacific.
For the Aggies to spring an upset in Provo, they certainly need their leading trio to deliver offensively, but that probably won't get the job done on its own. The Cougars, 6-2 on the year, are comfortably the best opponent Utah State has faced so far this season.
Led by second-year head coach Amber Whiting, BYU has lost two in a row, though that isn’t much consolation for the Aggies. The Cougars rolled Montana State, Weber State, Utah Valley, Wake Forest, Saint Louis and Loyola Marymount before falling to Wyoming – which expects to contend for the MWC title – and No. 12 Utah in a pair of road games.
They tout a high-powered offense and a stout defense, surrounding excellent size in the post with sharpshooters and dominating the rebounding battle to the tune of an average margin of 11.6 boards per game. BYU is also unbeaten at home, and has really yet to be challenged, claiming a 77-49 win over Weber State, a 59-44 victory against Utah Valley and a 74-58 romp over LMU.
The longstanding all-time series between these two is about as lopsided as it could be. This will be the 44th such meeting, with BYU holding a 40-3 advantage. Utah State snapped a 28-game losing streak with a 79-69 win in 2017, but has dropped the last five meetings since.
PG: Cheyenne Stubbs
SG: Skye Miller
SF: Ivory Finley
PF: Tiarra Hill-Brown
C: Bridget Mullings
PG: Kaylee Smiler
SG: Nani Falatea
SF: Amari Whiting
PF: Kailey Woolston
C: Lauren Gustin
Players To Know
Lauren Gustin: BYU’s leader in both points and rebounds, Gustin is averaging a double-double with 16.4 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. This is hardly anything new for the 6-1 senior, now in her fourth season as a starter. She's been an elite scorer from the day she arrived on campus, averaging 11.3 PPG in 2020-21, 10.7 PPG in 2021-22, and then ascending to 16.1 PPG as the team's go-to scorer last season. She does it all from two-point range, too, firing only one three this season and shooting 57.6 percent from the field.
If there's a weak point in her game, it would be at the free-throw line. She gets to the stripe plenty, taking a team-high 37 free throws so far this season, but she's only a career 55.3 percent shooter from the line and sits this season at 45.9 percent.
Her rebounding speaks for itself. As with the scoring, Gustin has never averaged fewer than double-digit rebounds per game at BYU. She isn't quite on pace to match her ridiculous 552 total boards last season (16.7 RPG), but she's still comfortably among the best rebounders in America.
The only real way to limit Gustin's impact is to force her into foul trouble. She's a capable defender, but she's not exactly a dominant rim protector, and she's already had three games with at least four personal fouls this season – fouling out in 33 minutes when BYU last took the floor at Utah.
Kaylee Smiler: Smiler is in her fifth year at BYU and her second in the starting rotation last season, starting 29 of BYU’s games last year and picking up where she left off with eight starts in as many appearances this year. Operating from the point guard spot, Smiler is a playmaking distributor, an efficient scorer and a crucial role player.
Her numbers aren't huge, averaging 6.6 points, 3.9 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.1 blocks in about 34 minutes per game, but she's a multi-level scoring threat shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 52.4 percent from deep, and she's easily BYU's best perimeter defender.
The recent return of junior guard Nani Falatea to the lineup should help Smiler's game, too. Falatea is much more comfortable as an on-ball scorer from the backcourt, starting all 32 games last season and pitching in 15.3 points and 4.5 assists per game. She's been sidelined for much of this season and is still rediscovering her form, but her activity offensively makes Smiler's job a lot easier, and allows her to focus on dominating defensively.
Kailey Woolston: A 60.8 percent field goal and 58.1 percent three-point shooter, Woolston has stepped right into a starting role as a true freshman and is showing no signs of slowing down. She's second among all Cougars with 16.0 points per game, doing plenty of damage from deep with a team-high 41 tries from beyond the arc but also flashing the ability to score at the rim.
The rest of Woolston's game is still developing, but she's already a comfortable rebounder (4.5 RPG), and she's pitching in 1.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game to go with her scoring output.
She isn't quite the inside presence at power forward that Gustin was last season, but BYU is comfortable enough with Woolston in the role that it bumped Gustin down to center, moving 6-4 junior Emma Calvert into the first seat on the bench with extra interior support coming from junior Rose Bubakar and Boston University transfer Lauren Davenport – who was recently dropped from the starting lineup to make room for Falatea.
Stats To Know
Three-Point Field Goal %: While the Cougars aren't shooting from deep at an overwhelming volume, touting a 31.9 percent three-point attempt rate, this team knocks down threes at an astounding clip. They're shooting 43.5 percent from behind the arc, the fourth-highest percentage in college basketball. In comparison, Utah State is shooting 22.1 percent on three-point tries.
BYU has a deep arsenal of weapons that can hurt a team from deep, and it’s proven near-impossible to guard them all. Woolston has been one of the best shooters in America through the early stages of this season, supplemented by Smiler (52.1 percent from deep on 21 attempts), Davenport (40.0 percent on 20 attempts), Calvert (37.5 percent on 16 attempts) and Amari Whiting (46.7 percent on 15 attempts). Falatea will certainly help those efforts as well, having knocked down 36.7 percent of her 169 attempts from deep last season.
Turnover Percentage: This is surely beginning to sound a bit repetitive, but Utah State’s turnover problem is giving this Aggie offense fits, and has shown no real signs of improvement.
However, Utah State does have something of an opportunity with this matchup, and it can't afford to waste that chance if it wants to remain competitive in Provo. The Cougars have faced their own turnover issues, averaging 17.4 per game while forcing only 11.4 TOPG. Gustin is the chief culprit with 29 turnovers on the season, but Woolston (22), Davenport (19), Whiting (16) and Calvert (14) are all susceptible as well. If the Aggies can take advantage of that and limit their own mistakes offensively, it could make a significant difference in this bout.
Parker Ballantyne covers Utah State women's basketball for The Aggship. You can follow him on Twitter at @PShark14 for updates on the Aggies.