After failing twice in losses to UNLV and Wyoming, Utah State is looking to pick up its first conference win of the season against San Jose State on Saturday afternoon. The Aggies are also trying to shake off a seven-game losing streak that began back in November when they fell to Idaho.
Utah State will get its chance as it hosts the Spartans. For a team in desperate need of a favorable matchup, the Spartans will be a welcome change of pace from the Rebels and the Pokes. At No. 329, the Aggies are at the bottom of the conference in NET Rankings, but their closest neighbor is San Jose State, ranked at No. 255. The Spartans were picked to finish ninth in the preseason and have not looked particularly sharp thus far, holding a 5-8 (0-1) record.
San Jose State will come to Logan with a two-game losing streak of its own, fresh off a heartbreaker to open conference play. The Spartans were in command for most of the game and held a nine-point lead with 4:31 remaining, but Fresno State stormed back and finished the game on a 13-1 run.
April Phillips is in her second year of coaching San Jose State. In her first year, she went 6-25 (3-15), twice toppling the Aggies despite an otherwise very difficult debut campaign.
Not only does this game provide a very reasonable opportunity for the Aggies to pick up a much-needed win, but it will also serve as a valuable bellwether. To put it bluntly, San Jose State is not one of the top teams in the Mountain West. A win against the Spartans wouldn’t vault the Aggies into the winning ranks, but it could indicate that the Aggies are moving in the right direction – that is, away from the bottom of the pile. With three last-place finishes in the past four years, and as the preseason pick to bring up the rear again in 2023-24, Utah State could use any indication that it is destined for something else.
Players To Know
Jyah LoVett: The freshman from San Gabriel, Calif., is putting together a phenomenal debut effort. Everything a coach could ask for in an underclassman, LoVett has become the centerpiece of this Spartan team and is leading the group with 13.9 points per game. She proved herself as a scorer as soon as she stepped onto the court, dropping 13 points in her first game, a loss to Santa Clara.
Even with such a strong start, she has still managed to step up her game. In her past three outings, she's averaging 19.3 points – having scored 17 in a win over Cal State Northridge, 15 in a loss at Saint Mary’s, and most recently, a career-high 26 points in the loss to Fresno State. Her efficiency stats are pretty solid as well, checking in with a 41.5 percent hit rate from the field and 35.3 percent from beyond the arc.
LoVett isn’t just a scorer, though. She can grab a few boards and dish the ball, averaging 2.5 rebounds and a team-high 3.0 assists per game. She’s also a big part of the team’s defensive efforts, averaging 2.8 steals a night. Her emergence has made it quite a bit easier for San Jose State to move on after the departure of standout PG Jada Holland to Grand Canyon this past offseason.
Sabrina Ma: Ma, a San Fransisco native, is the strongest shooter on the team and one of the better three-point threats in the MWC. A sophomore in her second year with the team, Ma has 119 points from the field through 13 games – 87 of which have come from three. She is shooting 33 percent on 6.8 attempts from deep per contest.
She runs a little hot and cold, which can limit her scoring ceiling when the threes aren't falling, but she is capable of stepping inside the arc and scoring when needed. She's averaging 10.1 points per game, good for third on the team, and contributing elsewhere – pitching in 4.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.0 steals a night.
Amhyia Moreland: Although she’s just a junior, Moreland is a valuable veteran presence on the court for the Spartans. An Old Dominion transfer now in her second year with San Jose State, Moreland has emerged as a force in the paint. The 6-1 forward has tons of talent, and will pose yet another test for the likes of Lauren Crocker and Gracie Johnson, Utah State’s freshman post patrollers who have been seeing more and more playing time of late.
Moreland has been asked to fill a much more significant role for San Jose State this season, and is responding in a big way. She's developed into a reliable scorer, averaging 11.8 points per game with an excellent 59.1 percent hit rate from the field, but she's shone as a rim protector and rebounder as well. Her 1.5 blocks per game lead the team and rank fourth in the Mountain West, and her 6.6 rebounds a night is unmatched by any other Spartan. The next closest player is Ma, more than two full rebounds a game behind Moreland.
Foul trouble is a concern (3.4 personal fouls per game), as it is for all three members of San Jose State's leading trio, but Moreland is a force to be reckoned with so long as she can stay on the floor.
Stats To Know
Turnover Percentage: San Jose State is one of the few teams in the nation turning the ball over more than Utah State. The Spartans are marred by 20.7 turnovers per game and a turnover rate of 25.8 percent, though the Aggies have little room to boast on the matter – they're committing 19.9 turnovers a game for a turnover rate of 25.4 percent.
It may appear to be a marginal difference, 20.7 against 19.9, but it could have an impact on the game. If Utah State can find a way to win the turnover battle, it could find a path to victory with those extra possessions.
Steal Rate: On the other side of the turnover fight, San Jose State generates a lot of steals. Averaging 9.3 per game, the Spartans have built their defense around aggression to force mistakes, and they've paid it off so far this season.
The biggest contributors are LoVett with 2.8 a game and Jasmine Singleton with 2.4, but Sydni Summers, Nailea Nicholas and Ma are all averaging at least one takeaway a night as well. For obvious reasons, this could bode poorly for the Aggies.
Three-Point Attempt Rate: Though the San Jose State offense is pretty lackluster, it can be expected to take a lot of threes – which is just about the only thing that stands out on this offense, at least in a positive direction. San Jose State is not at all afraid of the deep ball, firing nearly 19 attempts per game from beyond the arc and cashing them in at a 31.6 percent clip.
Led by Ma and Summers with contributions from Maya Anderson and LoVett, the Spartans are taking 32.4 percent of their scoring attempts from behind the arc, and earning 31.1 percent of their total points from there.
Parker Ballantyne covers Utah State women's basketball for The Aggship. You can follow him on Twitter at @PShark14 for updates on the Aggies.