It's been two full months since Utah State last beat a Division I opponent (Weber State on Nov. 17). For the Aggies, things looked pretty hopeful then – they had just beaten Kansas City on the road, and they followed that win over the Wildcats up with a tight loss at UC Riverside and win No. 3 on the year (over non-DI Warner Pacific). The schedule was slated to get a bit tougher, but Utah State was just a win away from matching its meager 2022-23 season total, and it had plenty of good opportunities on the horizon.
On Jan. 17, entering a home matchup with Nevada, the situation has grown bleak in Logan. Utah State has still yet to notch its fourth win of the year, and now, another milestone of the 2022-23 campaign is approaching – the 13-game losing streak that closed the season. The Aggies would desperately prefer to evade that mark, but with 10 losses in a row, they're running out of time to snap.
Hosting the Wolf Pack on Wednesday night, Utah State gets another shot at stopping this skid and notching its first conference win of the season. Nevada is a far cry from the top of the league, so victory is possible, but it can never be safely assumed for a Utah State squad that ranks dead last in the MWC. Over those 10 losses, Utah State has shown a nearly impressive ability to lose games in various ways – at times seeming to outright refuse victories.
Guard Cheyenne Stubbs is becoming of the best scorers in the conference; Samiana Suguturaga is a reliable contributor in the frontcourt coming off the bench; Utah State's trio of freshmen has gone from promising to productive, with Lauren Crocker, Gracie Johnson and Ali Wetta are seeing consistent minutes and starting to develop into really nice players for the Aggies.
In many ways, the squad seems too good for its 3-13 record. But, even with all that talent, it’s no mystery why Utah State is losing games. The Aggies can’t protect the ball, and they've had an increasingly hard time putting it in the basket.
The out-of-rhythm Aggies will again have their hands full with the Wolf Pack. Led by Amanda Levens in her seventh year at the helm, Nevada is unspectacular, but pretty formidable – at least for a sub-.500 team. Nevada is one of three teams in the Mountain West with an overall losing record, along with Utah State and San Jose State, and is probably the best among them. It defeated San Jose State on the road, 64-57.
Overcoming a few losing spells of its own, Nevada has managed to rattle off two wins in its last three games after losing six of the seven prior. It’s no freight train, but it’s enough to be a cause of concern for the Aggies.
Players To Know
Lexie Givens: The 6-0 forward from Alameda, California is the heart of this Nevada squad – a basketball player's favorite basketball player. She gets boards, she passes the ball and she plays defense.
Givens is a senior in her fourth year at Nevada, and her abundance of experience is apparent. She'll be playing her 100th game for the Wolf Pack on Wednesday night, with 73 career starts to her name.
Her scoring is down from last year, partially due to the abnormally poor shooting year she’s had. She is a 42.6 percent career field goal shooter, but this season she's only knocking down 31.0 percent of her shots. At some point, that figure can be expected to go up. Even when she’s not scoring, Givens finds ways to help the Pack, leading the team in rebounds, assists and blocks.
Givens averages 7.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.4 blocks per game, making her one of the most well-rounded players in the Mountain West.
Audrey Roden: From West Linn, Ore., Roden is a junior in her third year with the Pack. She didn’t start at all as a freshman (though she was averaging 9.6 points per game), but started in 23 of last year's 29 contests – and has continued to build on that this time around. She's emerged as Nevada's top scorer this season (and lone scorer in double figures per game), averaging 12.6 PPG and shooting 39.1 percent from the field.
She’s not the biggest three-point threat on the team (that honor belongs to Izzy Sullivan), but she can still score at all three levels. She is only shooting 22 percent from deep this season, well below her 30.4 percent career percentage, but can still be dangerous from deep. Her arsenal even without a prolific deep ball is terrific, too. She's been prolific from inside the arc, shooting 43.9 percent while attempting (and making) more free throws than anyone on the team.
On the other end, with 2.5 per game, she is the team leader in steals and third among all players in the Mountain West, behind only Taylor Britt of Air Force (2.7) and Jyah LoVett of San Jose State (2.6). When she played against the Aggies, LoVett had three steals.
Roden is also good for 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game despite averaging only 24.8 minutes a night – which is largely a result of foul trouble, as she averages well over three personal fouls per contest, leading the team with 55 on the year.
Izzy Sullivan: Sullivan is Nevada’s sharpshooter. The freshman is still working on her consistency, but she has already figured out her accuracy, and her play against MWC competition has drastically raised Nevada's ceiling. She was 4 of 6 from three with a career-high 22 points against New Mexico, and in her most recent game, she shot 5 of 8 from deep in the win over San Jose State.
She's averaging a whopping 15.3 points per game since the start of conference play, up from her season figure of 8.5 PPG, built largely behind her excellent shooting stroke. Sullivan is hitting 47.1 percent of her tries from the field on the season, and easily leads the Wolf Pack from beyond the arc, shooting 48.4 percent on a team-high 64 attempts.
The freshman doesn't do a whole lot else, grabbing 1.2 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 0.6 assists per contest on the season, but those numbers have jumped in league play as well, with Sullivan seeing significantly more playing time. She's pitching in 3.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.5 steals per league game while earning three starts for her recent effort.
Stats To Know
Steal Rate: It is a tale that’s been told many times this season, but Utah State's turnover woes are, once again, a concern on Wednesday. Nevada likes to take the ball away, and Utah State rarely offers much resistance on that front. The Wolf Pack are snatching 11.6 steals per game and forcing 20.6 turnovers a contest. Utah State has the ball stolen 9.6 times a night on average, which accounts for just under half of the 20.1 turnovers the Aggies commit per game.
Free Throw Rate: As you might expect from an aggressive defense, Nevada tends to foul a lot. The Aggies have been able to take advantage of the free-throw line really well this season, using it to score 22.6 percent of their points compared to just 15.7 percent for Nevada.
Of course, Utah State fouls a lot too, committing 18.1 per game to the Wolf Pack’s 19.3 – these two teams could force the referees to work overtime.
Despite Utah State relying on the stripe for so much of its scoring, neither team shoots free throws particularly well. The Wolf Pack is shooting 67.2 percent while the Aggies are shooting just a hair better at 68.8 percent.
Field Goal %: Nevada is one of the worst shooting teams in the country. At 36.3 percent on the year, Nevada has the worst field goal percentage in the Mountain West. Utah State is shooting 39.1 percent – an otherwise unremarkable feat made much more impressive by comparison.
The Wolf Pack have struggled across the board but they're having an especially hard time close to the basket, shooting just 38.8 percent on two-point shots this season.
This is welcome news for the Aggies, who have struggled to outshoot (or outscore) opponents this year. It’s also an ample opportunity for Utah State's young frontcourt of Crocker and Johnson to continue developing their game – such a poor shooting team should offer up plenty of rebounding opportunities, and allow those two to get involved on the defensive end.
Parker Ballantyne covers Utah State women's basketball for The Aggship. You can follow him on Twitter at @PShark14 for updates on the Aggies.nearly impressive