WBB Preview: Utah State Hunts For Three-Game Win Streak At UC Riverside
7 min read

WBB Preview: Utah State Hunts For Three-Game Win Streak At UC Riverside

Utah State WBB is back in action tonight at UC Riverside, looking to claim its first three-game win streak since the 2021-22 season. Preview:
WBB Preview: Utah State Hunts For Three-Game Win Streak At UC Riverside
Photo via Utah State Athletics

Set to play its second Big West opponent of the season, Utah State is looking to pick up its third straight victory for the first time since 2021-22 – when the Aggies beat Nevada and then won back-to-back games against Fresno State. The Aggies were winners in each of their last two games, and are coming off their biggest victory of the young season, 72-62 at home against Weber State.

For the first time in a long time, Utah State is operating with some momentum and continuity – two things that are a premium in athletics. The Aggies are desperate to keep that rolling as they head into a tough but winnable matchup, looking to set the tone early for the long and difficult season.

UC Riverside has been tested this season, and although the record might not show it, this team has a lot going for it. The Highlanders have played a very difficult schedule but have some very talented athletes and an impressive offensive system. UCR picked up its first win at home against Antelope Valley after starting the season 0-3. The Highlanders went 6-26 (3-17) last year and are hoping to improve this year.

These two teams have met eight times, with the series tied up at four wins apiece. The Aggies are 2-2 in Riverside and are hoping to tip the scales on the all-time record, as well as the away record. They last met during the 2018-19 season, when Utah State won on the road by a score of 68-60. Utah State has won four of the last five.

Projected Lineups 

Utah State

PG: Cheyenne Stubbs

SG: Skye Miller

SF: Ivory Finley

PF: Tiarra Hill-Brown

C: Bridget Mullings

UC Riverside

PG: RyAnne Walters

SG: Makayla Jackson

SF: Julia Stenberg

PF: Jordan Webster

C: Matehya Bryant

Players To Know

Matehya Bryant: Bryant leads the team in rebounds, steals, and blocks. She’s not just an off-ball force though – she’s equally dangerous with the ball in her hands, averaging 13.8 points, second on the team to only Jordan Webster.

Bryant's game is well-rounded, and she can be a game-changer on either side of the court. Game planning around someone with this breadth and depth of talent can be very difficult. She has enough facets to her game that she can find ways to be productive even if her opponent is clever enough to take away one strength.

Across five years of college basketball, Bryant has developed from an ace rebounder and post presence into a real two-way threat. She's made significant improvements in nearly every major statistical category year after year, and is seeing the culmination of those efforts now as a senior. Her scoring is up, from 9.5 PPG to 13.8 PPG, as is her rebounding (7.1 RPG to 8.8 RPG), steals (1.5 SPG to 3.3 SPG), and blocks (0.8 BPG to 1.8 BPG).

Primarily an interior threat on the offensive end, she’s racked up 55 points with only three attempts (all misses) from behind the arc. If there's a shortcoming in her game, it would be at the free-throw line. She gets to the stripe at a good rate, but is hitting only 64.3 percent of those attempts.

RyAnne Walters: Walters is not just one of the better passers Utah State has seen this season – she's one of the better passers in the country. With an average of 6.0, Walters is 23rd in the nation and second in the Big West for assists per game. She could have more, too, if she wasn't passing to a team shooting 34.8 percent from the field.

Passing isn't the only feature of her game, though. Despite standing just 5-7, Walters is a strong rebounder and can be a threat to score when needed. She's averaging 4.3 rebounds per game and, even after putting up zero in her first game of the season, is pitching in 4.3 points a night as well.

Her efficiency from the field is lacking, shooting just 22.6 percent from the field and with only one free throw attempt on the season (which she missed), but she's still developing and finding new ways to contribute as a scorer on a team that badly needs a third offensive option. The Highlanders have a pair of big-time scorers in Bryant and Webster, but have struggled beyond those two. Still, Walters has excelled and will continue to excel in her role as a distributor.

Jordan Webster: Playing a team-high of 33.8 minutes per game while averaging more than eight tries from behind the arc, by far a team-high, Webster plays a huge part in what this program is trying to run on the offensive end. Rightfully so, too, because she's leading all scorers with 18.8 points per game.

She's doing it consistently, too, logging a season-low of 16 points against Antelope Valley while playing only 27 minutes (another low for the season). Her season-high came against SMU in the season-opener when she put 24 points on the board, and she found a way onto the stat sheet even against No. 4 UCLA, notching 18 points and six assists in what was otherwise a less-than-ideal 90-52 loss.

If there is a way to slow Webster down, nobody has found it yet. She has a green light from everywhere past halfcourt, has scored essentially at will against a handful of quality defenses, picks up rebounds and assists at a solid rate, and will reliably take the ball away from opposing offenses a few times a night, too. In addition to her 18.8 points, she’s averaging 5.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game. She gets to the line more often than anyone on the team and is shooting 72.7 percent when there, with a 37.3 percent hit rate on all field-goal tries.

Stats To Know

Assist To Turnover Ratio: This is a UC Riverside team that moves the basketball at a high level, with 62.3 percent of the team’s shots coming from an assist. For a team scoring only 54 points a game, and ranking solidly near the bottom of just about every shooting metric, this is very significant.

More than anything, it's a sign of intent and structure. The shots have not fallen reliably in matchups with quality opponents like Boise State, SMU and UCLA, but this team generates a lot of assists and really does not turn the ball over. The Highlanders are averaging 14.3 assists per game and only surrendering 11.5 turnovers.

With Walters leading the charge, dishing out 6.0 assists to only 2.3 turnovers a game, there's a lot of pride here in creating open shots without making mistakes. Makayla Jackson (1.3 APG), Jordyn Marshall (1.0 APG) and Webster (2.8 APG) are all good for more than one assist per game to this point.

They're certainly in a shooting slump, but an offense that finds good looks is usually an offense set for shooting success down the road. The Highlanders run a great system with almost everything in place under fourth-year head coach Nicole Powell – they just need to start knocking down their shots. If this team can shake off its troubles with getting the ball into the basket, it suddenly touts a very dangerous offense.

Effective Field Goal %: This one goes both ways. The Highlanders are, as noted, having a particularly poor shooting year. This isn’t just relevant in the context of assists. No matter where the look is coming from, UC Riverside is shooting 34.8 percent from the field – which is one of the worst percentages in the nation – and 23.3 percent from the three, while converting only 69.1 percent of their tries from the free-throw line.

Utah State, on the other hand, has found its stroke from the field. The Aggies are shooting an impressive 44.0 percent from the field, and though they force turnovers at a high rate, the Highlanders are particularly bad at defending shots. UC Riverside’s opponents are shooting 45.2 percent from the field, which is again near the bottom of the country nationally.

The same can be said behind the arc. Utah State has struggled from three, but UC Riverside has struggled even more to defend it. The Aggies are shooting only 26.2 percent from behind the arc, but the Highlanders are surrendering a scorching 43.1 percent from the perimeter against Division I opponents, which is 354th nationally. If ever there was an opportunity for Utah State to put its early perimeter shooting woes on the shelf and get into a rhythm from behind the arc, this is it.

Offensive Rebound Rate: Though UC Riverside's rebounding is relatively balanced, with no one averaging double-digit boards and six players sitting between 1.0 and 6.0 rebounds per game, the Highlanders just haven’t been terribly effective on the glass. Leading the team is Bryant with her 8.8 RPG, but the Highlanders need more rebounds from more players if they want to win games. Bryant has the height and talent for it, but she's already being asked to do a lot, and she can play only so many minutes.

Behind her on the roster is Webster at 5.3 RPG, which is a good step in the right direction. However, she's also being asked to do a lot as a scorer, and it would be hard for her to do a whole lot more on the glass than she already does. Her three-point potential is far too valuable to sacrifice for offensive rebound opportunities, so others will have to contribute.

Perhaps Esther Matarranz can also be relied on to get more boards, though that would require a bump in playing time. In just 10 minutes per game, the 6-2 junior is bringing down 3.7 rebounds a night, fourth behind Walters (4.3 RPG) and nearly two rebounds ahead of No. 6, Julia Stenberg (1.8 RPG). Her role could certainly be expanded to get more rebounds, so long as she can hold up defensively (which has been a concern). She's averaging 5.3 points per game, third-best on the team, but she's faced foul trouble through three years with the program and is a liability on that 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.