WBB Review: Late Comeback Effort Not Enough To Lift Aggies Against Air Force
5 min read

WBB Review: Late Comeback Effort Not Enough To Lift Aggies Against Air Force

Utah State's late comeback effort wasn't enough to overcome a slow start, as the Aggies fell by six points to Air Force in the Spectrum. WBB Review:
WBB Review: Late Comeback Effort Not Enough To Lift Aggies Against Air Force
Photo via Utah State Athletics

LOGAN – An early fourth-quarter surge stalled out, and a late fourth-quarter push wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit Utah State built for itself with a slow first half, as the Aggies suffered another loss at home against Air Force, 78-72. Utah State is starting to collect losses again and has now dropped three in a row, moving to 4-19 (1-11) while Air Force advances to 12-13 (5-7).

The Aggies got the first score of the game with a two-point jumper from Macy Smith, but nine unanswered points from Air Force quickly put the hosts in a hole. They were ready with a response, pulling back within one a few minutes later on a Cheyenne Stubbs three-pointer, but the Falcons responded with another set of nine unanswered points to leave the Aggies trailing by 10 with the first quarter nearly gone. Isabella Tañedo hit a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left and the quarter ended with a score of 20-12 in favor of the Falcons. Six turnovers, resulting in eight points, didn’t help Utah State’s cause in the first quarter. 

In the second quarter, Utah State did little to dig itself out of the hole it had gotten itself into during the first frame. The offense proceeded mostly timidly, and the defense couldn't cause more than just a little discomfort for the Falcons. Macy Smith hit a three early in the quarter to cut the Air Force lead to five and threatened to make things interesting, but the Falcons handled Utah State’s attempt to catch up with ease and pushed the lead back to 10 within just a few plays.

With the game slipping away from the Aggies, Smith hit a free throw to cut the Falcon lead to single-digits, but Madison Smith immediately knocked down a three to keep the momentum securely in favor of the Falcons. Utah State made one last push to stay within reach and scored a quick four points before Jordyn DeVaughn capped off the quarter with a three-pointer, bringing the score to 39-28.

Coming out of the half, Utah State stumbled again and gave up ground. Air Force’s Smith hit a jumper to open the half, giving the Falcons a 13-point advantage. Bridget Mullings hit two free throws to cut the lead to 11 before the Falcons responded, and that would prove to be the smallest lead of the quarter. 

The Aggies tried to inch closer, but Air Force always managed to ward them off. The Falcons led by as many as 17 in the quarter when Alexis Cortez hit a three to go up 49-32 with just 4:55 left in the quarter. Facing their largest deficit yet, the following possessions were crucial for the Aggies. They could find a fight to back and remain competitive, or they could get lost and let the game get away from them. They chose the former.

On the very next possession, Samiana Suguturaga hit a big three-pointer. It didn’t make it a close game, the Aggies still trailed by 14, but it showed that they were not ready to give up. Dasha Macmillan hit a pair of free throws, and Ivory Finley responded with a steal and a layup. Jayda McNabb added another layup, and it was quickly becoming clear that Utah State couldn’t afford to trade buckets for long.

Smith stepped up and delivered, knocking down a three-point basket to give the Aggies hope of a comeback. But, just as it seemed like the Aggies had some momentum, Keelie O’Hollaren hit Utah State with a three-point dagger, giving Air Force a 56-40 lead and taking the wind right out of Utah State’s sails.

Still, the Aggies didn’t give up. They closed the quarter with four quick points as Finley hit a layup and Allyzee Verdan got a steal and laid it in for two, trailing 56-44 entering the final frame.

Smith opened the quarter for the Aggies by knocking down a layup and drawing a foul. She completed the three-point play at the free-throw line, and suddenly, the Falcons led by just nine points. Air Force overcame the early fourth-quarter scare and quickly re-established dominance with back-to-back jumpers from Devaughn and Milahnie Perry for a 13-point edge, which they would maintain until the 3:30 mark when Stubbs kicked off Utah State’s last stand.

She was fouled on a three-point shot, got it to go, and stepped up to the line and got that to go, too – a well-timed and perfectly executed four-point play from Stubbs had taken the Aggies from down 13 to striking distance. The Falcons responded coolly, first with a Macmillan jumper then with a Perry free throw, rebuilding a 12-point lead.

Livia Knapp tried to give the Aggies one more chance. She drew a foul, hit both of her free throws and then, moments later, knocked down a three-pointer to bring the Aggies within seven. Unfortunately for the Aggies, the 1:12 left on the clock proved to be a significant roadblock. The next few plays rhymed, as Alexis Cortez hit a pair of free throws, Cheyenne Stubbs hit a layup, Cortez hit another pair of free throws, and Stubbs hit another layup.

Utah State wasn't getting anywhere, and it was running out of time. Perry iced the game with a pair of free throws with three seconds left, putting the Falcons ahead by nine and safely out of reach, given the allotted time. Stubbs hit a three-pointer as time expired, but the Falcons had secured immunity to such an attack. The comeback wasn’t enough, and the Aggies fell 78-72. 

In the statbook, Smith finally had the game she's been looking for. She had been tiptoeing around a breakout game, scoring 12 once before and 10 twice, including her previous game against Wyoming, but with 16 points against the Falcons, she has finally shown what she can do. That's a new season-high, eclipsing her previous high of 12 that she scored against Western Colorado – as well as a team-high, in her second time leading the Aggies. She also added three rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block, shooting 6 of 11 from the field, 2 of 5 from behind the arc, and 2 of 3 from the free-throw line. In addition to her team-high in points, she also led the team in assists.

Stubbs wasn't the team's leading scorer, but with 14 points, she didn’t necessarily have a slow night. In fact, in the six games this season that she wasn’t the leading scorer, this was her best output – a promising sign of an offense that could be learning to be less one-dimensional. In the past, the offense has been heliocentric to a fault, as Stubbs either led the team or had only a handful of buckets.

In the early wins, that required strong backup performers, usually Finley and Skye Miller. If the offense continues to grow enough to allow for multiple high-scoring performances a game, the Aggies could be poised to utilize some of the untapped potential hiding on this roster.

Suguturaga continues to fit right in as a starter. She had a solid scoring night, notching 10 points and once again easily clearing her average which now sits at 6.3 PPG. She was efficient, too, scoring her 10 points on just six attempts. She also had three rebounds and a block.

Verdan and Knapp came off the bench and played well. Verdan had 10 points, six rebounds, one assist and three steals, while Knapp, in addition to spurring a final push for the Aggies, had seven points, five rebounds, and an assist. In 24 minutes, she didn’t have a single turnover or personal foul.

Utah State stays home for another round as it hosts Boise State in Logan on February 14th. The Broncos, who dispatched the Aggies easily in the last matchup, will bring a 16-8 (7-4) record with them.

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