Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Utah State here Thursday night

If you listen to Coach Stew Morrill long enough, he'll have you in tears and donating dollars so as to assist his itty bitty band of ballers in their quest to be able to compete in the big ol' world of college basketball. That is, if he isn't lamenting how lucky/fortunate/terrible his team has been and that some dreadful fate awaits them in their next game. To use a pair of animal metaphors, Morrill has perfected crying wolf while being crazy like a fox.

Of course, the reality is that Utah State has been one of the foremost rulers of the roost -- along with Nevada -- in the Western Athletic Conference. This season, the Aggies are at the top by themselves with a 12-game winning streak, a 17-1 overall record and an undefeated record (5-0) in conference play. And all this minus scorer deluxe Jaycee Carroll who graduated and is now is using his non-stop motor playing in Italy.

Utah State is coming off a 79-65 home win against Boise State. Power forward Tai Wesley -- who elbowed C.J. Webster very early in last season's game at Walt McPherson Court and got tossed -- scored 28 points, grabbed eight boards, nabbed five steals and passed for four assists. The Aggies committed just nine turnovers. Some Aggie fans were concerned about the subpar play of probable WAC most valuable player Gary Wilkinson in this game but a 14-point victory over a tough opponent leaves one wondering just what would satisfy the Logan fan base? Plundering and pillaging in every game?

WAC Play To Date

1/05/09 Idaho W 70-61
1/08/09 @ Louisiana Tech W 50-37
1/10/09 @ New Mexico State W 77-67
1/15/09 Fresno State W 65-61
1/17-09 Boise State W 79-65

The Aggie Starting Five

6-9 Gary Wilkinson -- There aren't many better stories than that of Wilkinson who dropped out of high school early, accomplished and advanced nothing for a couple of years until he became an LDS member and later walked-on with the Salt Lake City College men's basketball team. He eventually became a junior college All-America, stayed in state to play D-1 and is the odds-on favorite to win the WAC Player of The Year honor. Wilkinson has gone through a subpar (for him) past couple of games but he's at 16.7 ppg. and 7.8 rebounds a contest while shooting 61% from the floor. He's not always physical in the paint but generally plays smart with his positioning.

6-7 Tai Wesley -- He's sort of the team enforcer who can and will play physical but sometimes gets over enthusiastic with this aspect and commits silly fouls. He's scoring 12.7 ppg. -- 66% shooting -- along with nabbing 5.8 boards each time out but he's also a fine passer (48 assists) who leads the team with 28 steals, 16 shotblocks and 56 fouls. The latter total is almost double of the next Aggie. It's important to keep him off the offensive boards as almost 40% of his rebounds have been at that end.

6-4 Tyler Newbold -- We tought Newbold would have a breakout season as a scorer with Carroll gone but he's at 9.6 ppg. (43% from the floor, 37% on threes). However, he's the best Aggie defender and also has compiled a fantastic 57/13 assist-to-turnover ratio and he's just a sophomore.

6-3 Pooh Williams -- He's another strong defender whose scoring average isn't much (5.2 ppg.) but he is shooting .475% overall. His three-point shooting and free throw percentage number are subpar.

6-1 Jared Quayle -- This may draw a laugh but a case can be made that Quayle is the most valuable player on this Utah State squad. Why? His 12.6 ppg. scoring average has aided in the adjustment to losing Carroll's scoring and his play at the point has provided the best production at that position is some years for the Aggies. He is shooting 48% from the floor, 38% on his threes and he is third on the USU squad in free thow attempts while making 80% of his tries. He's 56/28 in assist-to-turnover numbers despite coming out of the junior college ranks from a small Wyoming school. His 21 steals are second on the team. All together now: Jaycee who? Remarkably, Quayle's numbers in WAC play are going up -- 14.2 ppg. and 6.2 rpg. are both second on the team. The kid is rolling. We need to get Dick Cheney to take him hunting...think about it for a while.

The Bench

6-8 Matt Formisano -- He is the top fill-in for playing in the paint with some but limited scoring and rebounding prowess.

6-3 Stavon Williams -- Guard him at the three-point line and beyond as he's shooting 43% on 56 long-range shooting attempts but just 40% overall and with but 12 free throws.

5-9 Jaxon Myaer -- He played more early in the season --before Quayle came on so well -- but hasn't shot effectively and his assist-to-turnover numbers are about even.

6-7 Brady Jardine -- He was recently activated after redshirting most of the season to date because 6-10 soph Modou Niang busted a hand. Jardine is a fine athlete who will really help down the road, should provide some YouTube highlights before he is done in Logan but is in an adjustment mode at present.

As A Team On The Season

*** As a team, the Aggies are shooting 10% better than their opponents -- 51% to 41% -- and leading the nation in that category.

*** Morrill's squad is averaging 73.6 ppg. to a much lesser 59.9 for opposing teams.

*** Utah State also owns a seasonal rebounding advantage -- 35 to 26 a game.

*** Get this: the Aggies have made more free throws so far this season than their opponents have attempted -- 263 of 355 to 189 of 253.

*** It take some deep digging but three figures indicate areas of possible concern: turnovers, steals and blocked shots are about even between USU and its opponents.

The Utah State Roster (alphabetical and by position)

Skyler Halford 6-1/170 freshman guard
Deremy Geiger 5-10/165 freshman guard
Stavon Williams 6-3/180 junior guard
Jared Quayle 6-1/180 junior guard
Dominique Cooks 6-3/200 freshman guard
Tyler Newbold 6-4/200 sophomore guard
Jaxon Myaer 5-9/165 freshman guard

Brady Jardine 6-7/220 freshman guard/forward
Pooh Williams 6-3/200 sophomore guard/forward

Clint Lee 6-5/195 junior forward
Tai Wesley 6-7/240 sophomore forward
Matt Formisano 6-8/235 sophomore forward

Modou Niang 6-10/220 sophomore center (out with a busted hand)
Gary Wilkinson 6-9/240 senior center

What Else

*** This is a team that gets good looks at the basket via its complicated sets and makes half of those takes.

Players defending the Aggies generally acquire a myriad of bumps and bruises as it's pick, pick, pick time in just about every set

*** Utah State is ranked #32 in the country by the ESPN/USA TODAY Coaches poll.

*** Is this a trend or an anomaly? Counting backwards, USU had but 9 turnovers against BSU, six against Fresno State, 21 against New Mexico State and 13 versus LA TECH in the most recent series of games.

*** The Aggies have out-rebounded every WAC opponent so far this season except for Fresno State.

Last Year In San Jose

Here's our game writeup from thge last time these two teams met at Walt McPherson Court:

Spartans over the Aggies 70-67

We had us a game tonight at The Event Center with San Jose State triumphing over Utah State 70-67.

Here's how the last minute or so went down: Chris Oakes put in a layup at the 1:03 mark to make it 70-63 San Jose State. Two Kris Clark free throws then cut the lead to five, 70-65.

With 48.6 remaining, C.J. Webster missed a free throw and Aggie star Jaycee Carroll then hit a driving layup to make the score 70-67 with 38 ticks on the clock.

Jamon Hill was fouled but the Spartans again missed the foul shot and Utah State had the ball with half a minute left.

Clark, Carroll and Gary Wilkinson all fired up three-pointers but each attempt was off target and finally the ball went out of bounds off San Jose State with 3.1 seconds remaining.

After timeouts, Carroll lofted an inbounds pass from the right corner baseline but it was intercepted by Tim Pierce, who was immediately fouled.

Pierce also missed the free throw and a Carroll desperation shot from three quarters court didn't come close.

The Spartans played an efficient and productive first half and led 41-30 after the first 20 minutes. The SJSU frontcourt duo of C.J. Webster and Chris Oakes sliced and diced through, around and over the Aggies, commanding the paint.

Utah State's cause wasn't aided when forward Tai Wesley was ejected from the game at the 18:32 mark for a flagrant foul.

Carroll, who was bothered all night by Tim Pierce's height advantage and defensive play, scored just four points in the opening 11 minutes.

To provide a sense of how San Jose State dominated the first half, the Spartans led 16-9 at the 11:54 mark and Utah State had already been whistled for seven fouls up to then to just three for SJSU. A Pierce three-pointer elevated the lead to 30-17 with 7:20 remaining.

Carroll had 13 points at the half but that was matched by Pierce's 13. But to his credit, Carroll ended with 31 points on 12-22 shooting. He also led USU with eight rebounds -- quite the telling sign when a 6-2 backcourter tops his team in boardplay.

Junior college transfer Gary Wilkinson played 32 minutes but missed all five of his shots from the floor, two from long range. However, he did grab six rebounds. Wilkinson scored 15 points in the February 9 game between these two teams.

As a team, the Aggies shot an uncharacteristic 24-57 from the floor -- credit the Spartan defensive play but add an assist to Utah State's having to travel from Hawaii. SJSU out-rebounded USU 34-32 but the most telling stat involved free throws. Despite the Spartan inability to make a foul shot towards the end and also somewhat throughout the game, San Jose State went 15-28 to Utah State's 12-14 -- a foul shot differential of 14. The Spartans had earned 21 foul shots by halftime. In the February 9 earlier game between USU and San Jose State, the Aggies were 28-32 from the foul line to SJSU's 10-15.

Chris Oakes led the way for San Jose with a double-double of 21 points and 12 boards. Tim Pierce added 16, including 4-8 from long distance and C.J. Webster contributed 15 points.

One Final Note

Will there be an AO sighting on the court tomorrow night?

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