OREM – Marred by its lowest-scoring game of the year, Utah State suffered its third loss in as many games and fell to 3-6 on the year with a 68-38 defeat at Utah Valley (4-5). The Aggies, stymied by Utah Valley’s ever-shifting defense, failed to reach the half-century mark on the scoreboard for the third time this season and moved to 0-3 in such outings, shooting just 30.4 percent from the field on Saturday afternoon.
The Aggies found themselves in dire straits at the halftime break, trailing 30-18 after a brutal 6 of 23 performance from the field (26.1 percent) in the game’s opening periods. Their shooting improved in the final two frames, albeit marginally as they hit 8 of 23 field goal tries (34.8 percent), but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Wolverines – especially as Utah Valley’s offense jolted to life and put 26 points on the board in the fourth quarter to Utah State’s eight.
Though the final scoreboard says otherwise, Utah State didn’t fully fall out of the game until the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter.
Utah State struggled from the field in the opening stanza (4 of 13), but the Wolverines weren’t faring that much better (7 of 16), and the underlying stats suggested a potential turnaround as the contest wore on. The Aggies trailed 16-10, but they won the rebounding battle 12 to 9, and were generally finding good looks at the basket. Though turnovers emerged as a significant concern, with USU losing the ball seven times and Utah Valley turning those opportunities into eight points, the miscues were largely self-inflicted and could be toned down as the game went on, at least in theory.
But the Aggies started moving in the wrong direction in the second quarter, and by the end of the half, they were facing a 12-point deficit. Utah State went into the break having lost 12 turnovers, and the Wolverines had cashed that into 15 points. The rebounding advantage faded, too, as a UVU squad that has struggled mightily on the glass carried a 22-20 edge on the boards into the break.
While Utah Valley relied on a balanced attack, picking up at least five points from four different players, Utah State’s usual scoring threats were having a hard time finding their groove. Cheyenne Stubbs in particular had a rocky first half, scoring only two points on 1-of-5 shooting, but she wasn’t alone. Ivory Finley and Skye Miller combined for just three points on 1-of-4 shooting, five players who saw action were held scoreless, and Macy Smith led the way with five points on 2-of-6 shooting. She was the only Aggie to hit more than one field goal in the half. Fortunately for the Aggies, Stubbs looked much more like herself after the break. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.
She got the Aggies on the board in the second half, leading them through an 8-2 surge with two three-pointers separated by a pair of free throws, but only after Utah Valley had tossed five points on the board to open the quarter. Her efforts cut the lead down from its halftime margin by only a point, 37-26. It felt like the Aggies were building some momentum, but the Wolverines scored five points to Utah State’s four through the rest of the frame and entered the fourth period with that same 12-point edge, 42-30, and only half the time left for USU to deal with it.
In those final 10 minutes, things got ugly for the Aggies. The Wolverines caught fire and notched their highest-scoring frame of the night, hanging an additional 26 points on Utah State. They wouldn’t need any of them, however, as the eight points the Aggies managed wouldn’t have been enough to erase the deficit had Utah Valley simply dribbled on the clock on each of its offensive possessions.
The loss provides more questions than it does answers for Utah State, sending it several steps back after what looked like a move in the right direction when the Aggies last took the floor, pushing BYU to the final whistle in Provo. Utah State’s game plan left much to be desired, as the Aggies failed to attack and expose UVU’s established weaknesses.
In a game that really could have showcased her rebounding ability, Bridget Mullings played only four minutes. Fellow forwards Lauren Crocker, Tiairra Hill-Brown, Gracie Johnson and Samiana Suguturaga all played fewer than 11 minutes apiece, Allyzee Verdan led the way but still logged just 23 minutes, and the Wolverines promptly outrebounded the Aggies 40-30, earning 12 second-chance points while holding the Aggies to just seven. It wasn’t a result of foul trouble, either – none of Utah State’s post players ended the game with more than one foul.
Speaking of, Utah State refused to put the Wolverines on the line for free throws, where they rank among the least efficient teams in college basketball. They made only two trips to the stripe, where their woes continued as they hit just one shot in four tries.
While the Aggies struggled to install an effective game plan, the Wolverines executed a very dangerous one. They came up with 11 steals, led by Liana Kaitu’u with three and Kylee Mabry with two. Steals accounted for only a portion of Utah State’s 24 turnovers in the contest, which the Wolverines turned into 32 points.
Ally Criddle led the way for the Wolverines with 13 points, while Jenna Dick added 12. On Utah State’s end, Stubbs once again led the team in scoring, matching Dick’s output of 12 on 4-of-11 shooting from the field. Utah Valley game planned around her and forced other Aggies to put the ball in the basket, while nabbing five turnovers from the leading point guard. She also recorded three rebounds and two steals.
Beyond her, Miller had her lowest-scoring game of the year with two points, though she paired it with an otherwise solid game, recording five rebounds, three assists and a steal. Finley was all over the court on defense and recorded six rebounds, five assists and a steal, though she too was held to a very quiet three points on offense.
As the starting lineup largely struggled (Smith and Hill-Brown combined for five points), 16 of the team’s 38 points came from the bench. Taylia Stimpson had her best game of the year and recorded six points, two rebounds and an assist, while Livia Knapp hit a three and Ali Wetta matched it. Crocker and Mullings each added two points.
Utah State gets a week to regroup and will look to stop the bleeding at home against Northern Colorado on Dec. 16.
Parker Ballantyne covers Utah State women's basketball for The Aggship. You can follow him on Twitter at @PShark14 for updates on the Aggies.