WBB Preview: Aggies Hope To End Three-Game Skid Against Northern Colorado
6 min read

WBB Preview: Aggies Hope To End Three-Game Skid Against Northern Colorado

Utah State WBB is looking to stop a three-game skid tonight in Logan, hosting a Northern Colorado side with big offensive potential but a struggling defense. Preview:
WBB Preview: Aggies Hope To End Three-Game Skid Against Northern Colorado

Utah State will close out its four-game Big Sky non-conference circuit as it hosts the Northern Colorado Bears on Saturday evening. Utah State is 1-2 in such games after losing to Eastern Washington, beating Weber State, and falling against Idaho.

Head coach Kristen Mattio leads the Bears and is in her second season doing so. In her first year at the helm, Northern Colorado went 13-18 overall and 5-13 in the Big Sky. The Bears, at times, can score a lot of points. They showed flashes of what their offense is capable of earlier this month when they scored 96 points on NAIA opponent Northern New Mexico College, but they've also scored 86 against Hastings and 82 at Omaha.

Outside of those games, though, the Bears haven’t had much going for them. Northern Colorado has lost four of its last five, falling to a 3-4 record with defeats against South Dakota, North Dakota State, Boston University and Air Force

The Bears are cold, but the Aggies are colder. They're still looking to match last season’s win total before entering MWC play, and moved one step closer after beating Warner Pacific, but have since rattled off a trio of losses. Idaho visited Logan and left with a dominant victory, the Aggies came up short at BYU, and then short-circuited against Utah Valley. Like Northern Colorado, the Aggies have lost four of their last five games.

Cheyenne Stubbs still leads Utah State's offense and will do her best to vault the Aggies over the Bears. She is averaging 15.7 points per game and is coming on a 12-point game at UVU, a somewhat muted performance for her standards. Though plenty have focused their efforts on her, teams have just not been equipped to stop Stubbs consistently. Between her ability to slash through even the most prepared defense and her 46.7 percent field goal accuracy, there’s not much that can keep her off the board.

Stubbs has been reliable at the top, but needs help to get the Aggies back into the win column. Skye Miller has largely been a dependable scorer behind Stubbs and is averaging 9.9 points a game, plus 5.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, though she was held very quiet against Utah Valley. So too was Ivory Finley, the highest-variation piece of Utah State's leading trio. At times, Finley has been an effective third chair, but she hasn’t always found her way there. When she doesn’t, the Aggies can’t find a way to win. Utah State is now 3-1 when led by Stubbs, Miller, and Finley, and 0-5 when it's not.

Players To Know

Delaynie Byrne: Byrne has been dominant since she joined the Bears last season, when she led the team in scoring in 17 of their 31 games and in rebounding in 23. She arrived at Northern Colorado after playing at Minnesota and then at UNLV for a year each. Byrne is an outstanding basketball player and is sure to be a handful for the Aggies, as she has been for teams all year.

Her efficient scoring makes her very dangerous, as she shoots 54.3 percent from the field and 50 percent on 38 three-point attempts, while easily leading the Bears with 17.6 points per game. On top of that, the 6-3 senior is averaging 8.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 1.0 assists and just under one block per game. Turnovers have been a concern at times, as she's averaging more than two per game with 17 in seven games, but that's just about the only knock against her.

Gabi Fields: Fields is a sophomore in her second year with Northern Colorado. The 5-5 guard started in every appearance she made as a freshman and has seen improvements across the board this season. Beyond Northern Colorado's top two scorers, Fields adds a layer of depth to an offense that can be difficult to handle.

She averages 9.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 2.1 steals per game, checking in as Northern Colorado's No. 3 scorer, No. 5 rebounder, and atop the team for both steals and assists – tied in the latter category with redshirt junior Seneca Hackley, who has stepped into the starting lineup recently in place of injured sophomore forward Aniah Hall, giving the Bears a smaller starting five.

Fields has struggled a bit from the field, shooting 39.2 percent on the season and 35.7 percent from three, but she's one of Northern Colorado's most prolific free throw shooters, attacking the basket often and getting 26 shots at the stripe, which is second only to Hackley. She's a 76.9 percent shooter at the line.

Hannah Simental: Simental is the second-leading scorer on the Bears behind only the offensive phenom, Byrne. She has plenty of talent herself, and calling her a sidekick to Byrne wouldn’t be fair to her game. Her play complements the team leader's well, but Simental is capable of high-end scoring and has stepped into that role comfortably at times this year. Her season-high is 26 points, the most scored in any game by a Bear this year, against Boston University.

A senior in her fourth year at Northern Colorado, the 5-8 guard averages 12.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Simental is a 42.4 percent shooter from the field, hitting 39.0 percent of her team-high 41 three-point tries, and nailing all 13 of her tries at the free-throw line.

Stats To Know

Opponent FG%: For all its potential on offense, Northern Colorado has been held back by its severely limited defense, which has not applied enough pressure to disrupt the shooting of its opponents. Opponents of the Bears are shooting 46.2 percent this season, far above the national average.

Utah State has been good, not great from the field, shooting 40 percent on the year, and it could take advantage of the weak defense from Northern Colorado to add to that. It'll need to, because Utah State's defense has not been a whole lot better, and the Bears are certainly willing to make this a shootout.

Offensive Rebound Rate: For the second game in a row, Utah State will face a very poor rebounding team. The Bears are averaging 30.4 rebounds per game for a rebounding rate of 47.5 percent, with only one non-injured player averaging more than 4.0 rebounds per game. Michelle Duchemin is capable (3.8 RPG), as is Tatum West (3.6 RPG), but both are averaging fewer than 19 minutes of action a game.

The Aggies weren’t able to take advantage of a pre-game statistical advantage on the glass against Utah Valley, losing that battle 40-30, and they will have to reverse that if they don’t want to repeat their fate from that game. It's easier said than done, because Utah State's rebounding has been extremely hit-or-miss this year.

Turnover Percentage: While Utah State has a turnover rate of 26 percent, Northern Colorado is only slightly better with a rate of 23.5 percent. Winning the turnover batter could mean victory in this contest, especially with a handful of turnover-prone players in Byrne, Duchemin, Simental and West on the other sideline.

Giving the ball away has been and continues to be a major detriment for the Aggies, and while they need to protect the ball, they also need to get it back. Facing another team that struggles to maintain possession, Utah State doesn't need to be perfect, but it does need to be better. Northern Colorado has done a decent job of that, touting six players who average at least one steal per game. If Utah State cedes the advantage in the turnover battle, it could set the final edge on the scoreboard.

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