Utah State will be looking for its second conference win of the season as it hosts Fresno State on Saturday afternoon.
The Aggies are hoping to capitalize on a little momentum, now hunting for their first back-to-back wins since they defeated Kansas City and Weber State early in the season after toppling Nevada in Reno earlier this week. Utah State hasn't won consecutive MWC games since it upended Nevada, Fresno State, and Fresno State again at the end of the 2021-22 regular season.
This is the second meeting between the two teams this season, and the first was less than favorable for the Aggies. Utah State's trip to Fresno State in January set off a brutal three-game stretch, trailing a 90-64 loss with similarly lopsided defeats to Nevada (89-44) and San Diego State (76-41).
Despite what last game's 26-point deficit would strongly indicate, Fresno State is a very beatable opponent, even for Utah State. The Aggies have the best player on the floor in Cheyenne Stubbs, who is coming off an absolute heater against Nevada with a career-high 32 points to drag her squad to victory down the stretch.
Beyond that, Fresno State is riding a four-game losing streak, with losses in six of its last seven games, save only for the win over Utah State. The Bulldogs are 10-12 (3-6) on the year, and Utah State is 4-16 (1-8).
Players To Know
Kylee Fox: Fox tormented the Aggies earlier this season, and as a freshman, could do so for a long time. She is a talented scorer and an accurate shooter, and while she’s still a step behind sophomore Mia Jacobs in terms of accuracy at range, it isn't by much. Fox is a 35.7 percent three-point shooter, trailing only Keely Brown (36.0 percent) and Jacobs (40.9 percent) on this roster.
Side by side, the two players pose a real threat. Neither can be left open, and trying to cover them both at the same time can spread a defense very thin around the perimeter, opening up opportunities for other Bulldogs.
Fox’s 4-of-7 shooting night from behind the arc when she last played Utah State was one of the better shooting outings of her career, and she ended the game with 14 points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal. On the year, she's averaging 8.0 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists.
Deajanae Harvey: As the Aggies learned the hard way, Harvey is a reliable second-unit force for the Bulldogs. The senior guard came off the bench and had a solid game against USU, notching 11 points, three rebounds, three assists and four steals back in mid-January. She's had a series of quieter games since then, but could get back on track against the Aggies.
Although her 11-point game is nothing near negligible, she isn’t as much of a scoring threat as others on the team, such as Jacobs, Brown, Taija Santa Maria, and Fox, but her well-rounded role-playing ability makes her a dream for teammates and a nightmare for opponents. She's earned a fair bit of playing time, averaging 20.0 minutes per game, but doesn’t necessarily need a lot of shot attempts. She's efficient on offense and productive on defense.
On the season she is averaging 7.7 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists and a team-leading 1.9 steals per game.
Mia Jacobs: Jacobs has settled in as the clear leader of this offense – what was chaotic has become heliocentric. Fresno State struggled to find that standout player in the earlier stages of the year, but Jacobs has emerged as the undeniable star who can power this offense.
A large part of her success comes from behind the arc, where she's knocking down 2.1 threes a game, the fourth-most in the Mountain West, at a 40.9 percent clip.
She was too much for the Aggies to handle last time, scoring a game-high 23 points with nine rebounds, three assists and a block. She did all of that in only 19 minutes.
The 6-2 sophomore hasn’t really slowed down since then. She's now led the team in scoring across its past six games, and is averaging 19.0 points per game in that span. After her 23-point performance against Utah State, she immediately put up two more 20-plus-point performances, scoring 25 at Nevada and 24 at New Mexico.
Along with her scoring, she also leads the team in rebounds and blocks per game, averaging 14.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 0.7 blocks per contest.
Stats To Know
Two-Point %: On the defensive side of the ball, Fresno State struggles to do a couple of things. Firstly, the Bulldogs don’t block shots. That's not a huge deal. Blocking shots isn’t necessarily required to win in the MWC, though it sure does help.
Secondly, they don't rebound. That's been a much larger issue for Fresno State, and it's persisted all season. The Bulldogs are averaging 21.5 defensive rebounds per game, with a 49.3 percent total rebound rate that ranks outside of the top 200 nationally.
Utah State has star power in Stubbs but hasn’t managed to build much of a presence on the interior. There is talent there, to be sure, with players like Samiana Suguturaga, Bridget Mullings, Gracie Johnson, Allyzee Verdan and Lauren Crocker, but Stubbs is one of the smallest players on the team, and can only shoulder so much of the load in the paint.
Three-Point %: Fresno State’s three-point approach is simple: It shoots a lot and it scores a lot.
The Bulldogs launch a three on 32.4 percent of their possessions, and generate 33.5 percent of their scoring from behind the arc. The Aggies, for comparison, shoot a three just 26 percent of the time, making up for 22.1 percent of the team’s points.
When the teams met last, the Bulldogs went 10 of 26 from deep – a performance they would love to replicate. Fox was the main culprit, going 4 of 7 beyond the arc, while Jacobs added three makes and Harvey, Santa Maria and Sydney Dethman pitched in one each.
As a team, Fresno State is shooting 33.5 percent from deep. Utah State is nowhere near that figure, and can rely only on Stubbs for a hit rate better than 30 percent (33.7 percent). The Aggies are shooting 22.1 percent from behind the arc this season, and need to finish above that figure to have a chance this afternoon.
Parker Ballantyne covers Utah State women's basketball for The Aggship. You can follow him on Twitter at @PShark14 for updates on the Aggies.