LOGAN – It seemed the Aggies had finally come across a potentially favorable matchup as they hosted San Jose State on Saturday afternoon. The Spartans entered the game at just 5-8 overall, coming off a loss to Fresno State, and will likely finish near the bottom of the Mountain West this season. Instead, Utah State suffered a 15-point loss on its home court, dropping to 3-11 (0-3) on the season.
Head coach Kayla Ard put it bluntly: “We need to make shots.”
The 69-54 loss was Utah State’s eighth in a row, and the latest MWC outing that didn't see the Aggies seriously contend for a victory down the stretch – they have been outscored by a combined 60 points in their first three Mountain West contests.
Utah State sprinted out of the gate, scoring five quick points from a Cheyenne Stubbs layup and an Ivory Finley three. The Aggies looked like they could have some momentum until Jyah LoVett hit a two-point jumper to break up that quick start. Utah State kept plugging away, though, as Tiairra Hill-Brown got a putback to go and Stubbs hit a free throw to give the Aggies a six-point lead, their largest of the game.
The lead wouldn’t last long. A LoVett three cut the Aggies lead in half, and Sabrina Ma tied the game with a three of her own. Then, Marisa Jones-Davis put the Spartans in front. Utah State briefly evened the score back up as Bridget Mullings checked in and quickly got a bucket on a driving assist from Stubbs, but on the very next play, Amhyia Moreland took the lead back for the Spartans, this time for good. The game stayed mostly competitive, despite the Aggies trailing for the entire remaining balance.
At the quarter break, Utah State trailed 18-12. The Aggies would carry the same six-point deficit into the half after each team scored 15 in the second quarter, bringing the score to 33-27 in favor of the Spartans.
San Jose State came out of the half very prepared for Utah State's offense, and more specifically, its star player. A one-point third quarter from Stubbs severely hindered Utah State’s best efforts to close the gap. Macy Smith and Samiana Suguturaga tried to pick up the slack but could only manage to come up with three points apiece. Finley and Mullings each added a pair and the Aggies scored just 11 points in the frame.
The Spartans were steadily extending their lead, meanwhile, and Utah State couldn’t do anything about it. In the final stanza, the deficit continued to grow as the game slowly got out of hand. At their worst, the Aggies trailed by as many as 17 – only two points worse than the final of 69-54.
“We have to make more shots and we have to take care of the basketball," Ard said. "We turned it over 22 times and they had 23 points off our turnovers. We need to take care of the basketball. It’s kind of been our Achilles’ heel. We have to keep getting better at it and keep working. I appreciate their effort. I thought the effort was there, the kids are playing hard, but we have to make shots."
In total, six Spartans scored and four of them finished in double digits. LoVett was the leading antagonist, as her stellar freshman campaign continued. She had 21 points, four assists, three steals and two rebounds, and hit 3 of 4 tries from behind the arc. Davis-Jones chipped in as well. She had 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Moreland had 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, and Ma had 12 points, four steals, three rebounds and an assist.
For the Aggies, turnovers, once again, marred their game. Ard’s words sum up the problem well enough: “We’ll struggle if we turn the ball over 22 times… We can’t turn the basketball over. We need to keep our turnovers somewhere between 12 and 15 to give ourselves a shot to win a game.”
Shooting was another thing that stung the Aggies. Specifically, three-point shooting, where Utah State finished the game 4 of 18 with half of the makes coming from Stubbs.
“We have to make more three-pointers," Ard said. "We’re (4 of 18) tonight, we didn’t shoot it well last game… We have to hit more threes to give us a chance to win games.”
Stubbs returning to her scoring role was one good sign, and a welcome one. After being held to just five points against Wyoming, she was back to her high-scoring ways, putting 17 points on the board with four assists, three rebounds and a steal.
“She can score in a lot of different ways and I think that’s why it's so hard to guard her," Ard said. "If you leave her open on threes, she can make a three. If you come out and guard her on a three, she can go by you, and then she’s really crafty around the rim… I have no idea how she makes some of those layups, to be honest. And then she knows how to draw a foul, so she gets points from the free-throw line… She’s just really, really crafty."
Another good sign was the continued progression of the freshman Lauren Crocker, who earned her first career start and logged a little under 19 minutes of action.
Her first starting job wasn’t an easy one. Crocker had a tough assignment in Moreland but held up admirably. She couldn't get much going on the offensive side, ending up with just three points, but she was extremely productive outside of that. She had 11 rebounds and a block.
Suguturaga had another solid performance off the bench. She had 12 points, good for a season-high, along with five rebounds and a block. She found her way to the line a lot, where she went 8 of 10.
Utah State hits the road and will play New Mexico in the pit on Wednesday night. The Lobos are 10-5 (1-1).
Parker Ballantyne covers Utah State women's basketball for The Aggship. You can follow him on Twitter at @PShark14 for updates on the Aggies.