WBB Preview: Utah State Looks To Halt Slide As It Hosts Boise State
5 min read

WBB Preview: Utah State Looks To Halt Slide As It Hosts Boise State

Utah State WBB is back in action tonight for its second meeting of the season against Boise State, which touts one of the best defenses in the MWC and a wicked three-point shooting attack:
WBB Preview: Utah State Looks To Halt Slide As It Hosts Boise State
Photo via Boise State Athletics/Danny Swanstrom

Utah State is hoping to avoid spiraling into another lengthy losing streak on Wednesday evening, as Boise State makes its return trip to Logan. The Aggies did not make it close when they visited Boise on Jan. 20. Cheyenne Stubbs scored a game-high 17 points, but it wasn't nearly enough, as no other Aggie scored in double digits – the next closest was Bridget Mullings with eight points, while two starters were held scoreless.

It was something of a breakout game for Gracie Johnson, who has seemingly had several of the kind and is somehow still waiting to fully emerge. She had a magnificent eight blocks and added four points.

It was also the first game that saw Samiana Suguturaga in the starting lineup. She’s remained in that spot for every game since, and has done a terrific job in the new role. She had five points, three rebounds and three steals against the Broncos.

For Boise State, Dani Bayes popped off and scored 16 points off the bench, reinforced by Abby Muse, who added 15 points, and Tatum Thompson – who also came off the bench and scored 12.

Utah State is hoping things are different this time around, but Boise State is a tough test. The Broncos have an average scoring margin of plus-4.5 while the Aggies have a margin of minus-16.3. The Broncos aren’t just stout, well-coached, and talented – they’re also a bit tricky. They shoot the three with blinding volume and accuracy, while using a suffocating defense to basically run a team-wide 3-and-D system. It works like a charm.

Players To Know

Dani Bayes: Bayes came off the bench and torched the Aggies just under a month ago. She isn’t the star of this team, averaging just 7.0 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game, but based on past performances, she’s one to keep an eye on as she visits Logan.

The sophomore was simply unstoppable against the Aggies, as she garnished her 16 points with three rebounds, three assists and a steal, shooting 5 of 11 from the field, 4 of 8 from deep, and hitting a pair of tries at the free-throw line.

Bayes is coming off just a two-point performance against Wyoming, a shutout against San Jose State, and back-to-back five-point games before that. She hasn’t done much in the way of rebounds, assists, or steals in that stretch, either. Another big game against Utah State is just what she is looking for, and she’s certainly capable of doing it.

Abby Muse: Muse is a talented, well-rounded player who can do a lot of things on the basketball court, but the place to start is her defense. She is easily the best shot-blocker in the conference. Nobody is even close to doing what she is doing.

Muse averages 3.3 blocks per game. The next in line is New Mexico's Charlotte Kohl, a formidable shot-blocker in her own right whose 1.7 BPG pales in comparison to Muse. Utah State’s leader is Suguturaga, averaging just 0.6 BPG, though Johnson is well on her way to claiming that title once she's played enough to qualify. The freshman is currently averaging 2.6 BPG in a small but extremely promising sample size.

Muse is tied with Lucy Cochrane of Portland for second in the nation, behind only Stanford’s future first-round draft pick Cameron Brink. Her level of mastery is nearly unmatched in the conference across all statistical categories. Other than McKenna Hofschild, who recently eclipsed the 2,000-point mark and became the Mountain West's all-time leader in assists, Muse is the only Mountain West player appearing atop national leaderboards.

Now, for everything else she does. She’s averaging 8.9 points and a team-high 8.0 rebounds, which puts her second in the conference, and adding 1.3 assists with a team-high of 1.2 steals.

Natalie Pasco: Pasco is the centerpiece of the Bronco attack. In many ways, what Muse is to the defense, Pasco is to the offense. She embodies the ethos of the team, and is a personification of Gordy Presnell’s game plan on the offensive end, which is to say, she’s a walking bucket. She and pass-first guard Mary Kay Naro not only work great together in a vacuum, but they're a perfect pairing for Presnell’s ball movement and three-point barrage style of attack.

The most notable thing about Pasco's skillset, and the thing that makes her so central to the offense, is her three-point shooting. If there’s one thing this team likes to do more than shoot threes, it's make threes, and none more so than Pasco. She is currently shooting 44.0 percent from deep, hitting a conference-best 2.6 tries per game and averaging 14.1 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists.

Her over-the-horizon range makes her nearly impossible to guard on its own. Mix in her ability to score at all three levels, and the sophomore guard from California becomes one of the most versatile and punishing offensive players in the conference.

She had an uncharacteristically quiet game against Utah State when the teams met earlier, scoring just nine points (her second-lowest-scoring night since opening the Mountain West slate). She has been anything but quiet since then, however, averaging 16.4 points in her last five outings.

Stats To Know

Three-Point Shooting %: There is really no way to address Boise State's shooting expertise without going back to volume and accuracy. The Broncos have combined a commendable amount of volume with an extraordinary amount of accuracy to create a point-scoring apparatus that more closely resembles a buzzsaw than a traditional offense.

The Broncos are shooting 36.7 percent from three as a team, the 18th-best figure in the county, and scoring an exorbitant 32.7 percent of their points from beyond the arc (64th in CBB).

Buoyed by that efficiency, this BSU offense averages nearly a point per scoring attempt, despite having a below-average two-point and free-throw percentage. While it is not exactly related, it is correlated, and it's worth noting that the offense averages 14.6 assists per game for a 65.2 percent assist rate.

Defensive Efficiency: Boise State's defensive dominance doesn’t come down to just one statistical measure. Instead, a medley of stats better demonstrates Boise State's ability.

The first statistic is a pretty general measure of defensive performance. It’s simple, and in the case of the Broncos, pretty impressive: Boise State is giving up only 58.0 points per game.

When measured against Utah State’s performance, this looks to be a clear advantage. For reference, Utah State surrenders 72.2 points per game and is scoring just 55.9 PPG, which isn’t an especially imposing number that threatens to break through the Bronco defense.

The second category is takeaways. The Broncos aren’t overly noteworthy in terms of steals, but they certainly earn a passing grade here. Boise State grabs 7.0 steals per game with a steal rate of 8.9 percent. That's nearer the national average than some aspects of the Boise State defensive onslaught, but against a turnover-prone Utah State, it could prove more than enough.

While the Broncos are competent at ending possessions via steals, they are adept at ending possessions off the glass. They are grabbing 27.6 defensive rebounds per game for a 73.2 percent defensive rebound rate, which ranks 42nd nationally. It’s hard enough to get shots off against this team, so a limited number of second chances is often a backbreaker.

The fourth stat is shot-blocking. In this regard, the Broncos really, really excel. Boise State, with one of the nation's best shot-blockers in its ranks, consistently makes it difficult for opponents to get shots off. The team averages 6.0 blocks per game for a block rate of 15.2 percent, third-best in the county. That's the crowning achievement of an excellent defense.

When 24.1 percent of opponent possessions end in a steal or a blocked shot, and with the Broncos gobbling up 73.2 percent of the available defensive rebounds, playing against them can be an exhausting and demoralizing pursuit.

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