LOGAN – Offensive struggles and a woeful third quarter again haunted the Aggies as they suffered their fourth loss in a row, falling 75-57 against Northern Colorado in the Spectrum. With the win, the Bears are now 4-4 and Utah State, which is still looking to match last season's win total (four), dropped to 3-7.
An inability to get its stars going certainly didn’t help Utah State’s chances. Cheyenne Stubbs, the team’s leading scorer, had a very rare very poor shooting game and ended the night with only four points. She couldn’t get shots up, and didn’t get them to fall when she did, shooting 1 of 4 from the field. Stubbs still put in work to grab five rebounds and dish out two assists, but Utah State simply needs more offensive output from its top scorer. The worst game of her season ended earlier than expected, as she fouled out in the fourth quarter.
Skye Miller was excellent, stepping up well to fill that void. Miller led the way for the Aggies with 15 points, shooting 6 of 13 from the field, 2 of 3 from three and 1 of 2 from the free-throw line. Miller also recorded five rebounds, four assists and a steal. Samiana Suguturaga pitched in effectively as well, and is becoming a very good player off the bench. She had eight points, three rebounds, two assists and a block as a member of the second unit. It wasn’t enough to get the job done this time, but having a player who can do what Suguturaga does might win some games for the Aggies moving forward.
Utah State started slow and gave up five unanswered points to open the game. The Aggies eventually trailed by as many as eight points with 4:30 left in the first frame, but fought back to a 19-16 deficit as the quarter ended. The second quarter continued that trend, going back and forth and even seeing the Aggies pull ahead, 34-32, with 2:14 remaining in the half, but Northern Colorado erased that with a 6-0 run to end the period.
That run carried into the second half, as a lethargic third quarter spelled doom for the Aggies on their home floor. Northern Colorado’s 6-0 burst turned into a 17-0 runaway within the first four minutes of action and pushed Utah State into a significant 49-34 deficit. Scoreless until the 4:51 mark, Utah State finally got its offense back on the board with a Livia Knapp bucket – one of only three Aggie field goals in the quarter, with Knapp and Stubbs claiming the other two. All told, the Aggies were outscored 24-6 over the 10-minute period and found themselves staring at an insurmountable 22-point deficit entering the last 10 minutes, 62-40.
To their credit, the Aggies didn’t give up. Utah State won the fourth quarter by four, 17-13, which was enough to tie the game at 51 across the first, second and fourth frames. That’s hardly any consolation, given Northern Colorado’s dominant third period that set the final 75-57 margin, but it bears mentioning. It was too little too late, but Utah State’s effort down the stretch was commendable.
Staying in the positive category, at least to the extent that there is a positive category in an 18-point loss, Utah State can take a lot of excitement from the performance of Lauren Crocker. The freshman from Calgary stole the show. She had the best game of her young career and might be beginning to break into a crucial role in the rotation – standing at 6-4, she could just be the interior presence Utah State has been missing. For three games in a row, head coach Kayla Ard has opted for a guard-heavy starting lineup. Struggling to find reliable difference makers in the post, Tiairra Hill-Brown has been the only non-guard in the starting lineup since the Aggies played at BYU.
Crocker came into the game with just 21 minutes and four career points to her name. Showing off her immense potential against the Bears, she picked up a career-high 18 minutes and finished with 10 points, three rebounds and two blocks. Perhaps the most impressive part of her performance was her undeniable efficiency, as she was incredible under the basket and went 4 of 6 from the field.
Her game is still far from perfect, but her outing against Northern Colorado was very promising. She showed a versatility and skill as a post scorer that Utah State has been largely without this season, and she did it on a relatively low volume of looks, taking full advantage of the opportunities that came her way.
It would be a huge boost for the Aggies if, on top of that scoring ability, Crocker could improve her rebounding. Grabbing boards has been an issue for the Aggies all year, and having a player who could add some stability there would be very advantageous. With her height and strength, it seems a natural fit.
Utah State is back in action against the Division II Western Colorado University Mountaineers on Dec. 18, where it will look to snap this dry spell and close out non-conference play with a little momentum before jumping into the MWC with a Dec. 30 trip to Vegas for a bout with the utterly dominant UNLV Rebels.
Parker Ballantyne covers Utah State women's basketball for The Aggship. You can follow him on Twitter at @PShark14 for updates on the Aggies.