ALBUQUERQUE — Utah State came just short of its first conference win, which would have snapped a long and growing losing streak. The Aggies made it close and even held the lead with 1:38 left in the game, but, as has been the pattern with this team, they couldn't find a way to close it out. Ultimately, Utah State fell at New Mexico, 71-67, earning its ninth loss in a row. The Aggies are now 3-12 (0-4) with a 1-6 record on the road, while the Lobos improved to 11-5 (2-1).
The game was a rollercoaster from the start. Macy Smith, who has been emerging as a very strong scorer of late, got the first bucket of the game for the Aggies, to which the Lobos responded with a Viane Cumber three-pointer, taking a one-point lead of their own. Smith, in turn, hit a free throw to tie the game back at three.
After Smith opened the evening, it was time for Cheyenne Stubbs to get involved. The standout guard scored the next seven points for the Aggies to close out the first quarter, facing a 16-10 deficit, thanks to a balanced New Mexico attack spearheaded by Nyah Wilson, who had seven points of her own.
In round two of the fight, Utah State outplayed the Lobos and looked like the better team for the full ten minutes, nearly doubling up its host with a 17-9 frame and entering the halftime break with an unfamiliar feeling: a lead. The Aggies were in front at the break, 27-25, for the first time since they took a 34-17 lead into the half against Warner Pacific. It was their first halftime lead in a conference game since last season on Jan. 26, 2023, when the Aggies led 36-27 against Wyoming before eventually falling by 12, 64-52.
The Lobos stormed out of the half and tried to put the Aggies away – they almost succeeded, too. An 18-5 sprint capped off by yet another Cumber three opened the quarter for the Lobos and gave them a 46-32 lead with 4:51 to play in the period.
They finally answered with a layup from Stubbs, but Wilson was again there to match that effort, putting Utah State right back into a 14-point hole with a little over three minutes remaining in the quarter. Before the bout could slip away completely, the Aggies fought back, closing the quarter on a 10-2 run and turning what looked like a developing blowout loss into just a six-point game with a quarter to play.
After a back-and-forth start that saw the New Mexico lead grow as large as nine points and dwindle to as few as one, Samiana Suguturaga hit a three-point shot to give Utah State a one-point advantage with 2:19 left on the clock. Charlotte Kohl took the lead back with a layup, but Sugururaga answered it immediately, again giving Utah State a one-point lead. Only needing to protect that slim advantage for the remaining 1:38, Utah State fell flat. New Mexico picked up a triple from Wilson and three more points split between a bucket from Cumber and an Aniyah Augmon free throw before the Aggies dented the scoreboard again with only eight seconds left.
It doesn’t take much looking to see what ultimately gave the Lobos the edge. Once again, turnovers were a serious culprit, as the Aggies gave the ball away 21 times to only seven from New Mexico. The Lobos also had 21 assists while the Aggies had only nine, and three-point shooting certainly didn’t favor the visitors either – Utah State shot 5 of 16 while New Mexico finished 11 of 33.
To their credit, the Aggies did get to the line a lot against a team that generally refuses to put teams there, shooting 14 of 19 from the stripe (the Lobos were just 8 of 15). Utah State also found a way to win the rebounding battle, grabbing 49 to New Mexico's 45, though the Lobos dominated the offensive glass with 17 to Utah State's eight.
Stubbs remains a major bright spot against the otherwise dark backdrop of this 3-12 Utah State season. She's been phenomenal, and kept that rolling in The Pit, scoring 25 points while adding five rebounds, four assists and four steals. It was her second game in a row with four assists, and those four steals tied her season-high. This was also her fourth 20-point game of the year, and her second in a four-game span (she had 30 at UNLV). She has now led the team in scoring in 12 games, while no one else has done so in more than one.
Meanwhile, on the bench, there seems to be another reliable piece forming. Suguturaga has been one of the most consistent players for Utah State this season, and is excelling in her role. She had 11 points, eight rebounds and a block, following her season-high 12-point outing against San Jose State with another very strong performance. For a team badly in need of post players it can trust, Suguturaga's three-game averages of 9.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per contest are encouraging.
The biggest contributor to the remaining share of the scoring was another bench player, freshman center Gracie Johnson. Johnson tied her career-high with eight points while nabbing new career bests with nine rebounds, five blocks and a steal. As a bonus, she did all that without committing a single turnover, a rare feat on this team. Johnson is still new to getting rotational minutes, but she's emerging as a true defensive stopper in the post and a formidable rebounder. She's a bit more of a work in progress on the offensive end, but she's making it very difficult for Utah State to keep her off the floor.
After getting her first career start in the previous contest, Lauren Crocker got the nod again at center. She played just 11 minutes and didn’t score, but was solid outside of that, finishing with four rebounds and a block while only turning the ball over once, which was the fewest among starters.
Utah State stays on the road and will head next to the San Joaquin Valley to take on Fresno State. The Bulldogs are 9-8 (2-2) on the season.
Parker Ballantyne covers Utah State women's basketball for The Aggship. You can follow him on Twitter at @PShark14 for updates on the Aggies.