Sunday, February 10, 2008

USU on top of league, winners of three straight

Following a 100-70 debacle at the hands of New Mexico State in Las Cruces, N.M., the Aggies have turned things around the last two weeks to remain #1 in the WAC. Utah State faced Nevada a week later at home, and turned in perhaps their best performance of the season in defeating the Wolfpack 77-63 in a game that the Aggies controlled from start to finish. USU took a 13-2 lead three minutes into the game, and never looked back.
Keep in mind that this Wolfpack bunch lay claim to the WAC championship four years in a row. No, they no longer have Nick Fazekas, now a member of the Dallas Mavericks organization, or Ramon Sessions, but they do have NBA prospect Marcellus Kemp and a fine freshman point guard in Armon Johnson, who commits several turnovers a game (4.2) but often delivers the ball in good places for his teammates and already knows how to score at the Div. 1 level.
In addition, seven-foot sophomore center JaVale McGee is averaging 13 points and eight rebounds per game this season, and in a couple of years, if not next year, will be as good as Fazekas. He may not have the outside touch that Fazekas did, but is already just as good if not better at offensive rebounding.
OK, enough drooling about the Wolfpack. The point is, they are a fine team, and Utah State completely took them out of what they wanted to do. In fact, they outrebounded the bigger Pack, and thanks to primarily Tyler Newbold but also Pooh Williams, held Kemp to 15 points (nearly five below his average) on 6-15 shooting, including 1-5 from three-point land.
Coach Stew said that Gary Wilkinson "played his best game as an Aggie" in scoring 21 points and nabbing 13 rebounds. USU desperately needed that type of rebounding game from Gary, particularly going against McGee.
The Aggies followed this game up with a 77-72 road victory over Fresno State this past Thursday. USU built a 22-point lead in the first half, only to see the lead slip to 3 in the final minute before holding on for the win.
Yeah, they lead a big lead get away, but you can't complain too much about a road victory, especially considering the Ags' last road outing and their 3-6 record away from the Spectrum coming into the game. It is worth noting that Jaycee shot 6-9 from three-point range in the contest, and totalled 22 points. Gary also scored 16 points and grabbed seven boards and along with Tai and DuCharme slowed down the Bulldogs' Hector Hernandez, a power forward who can also shoot from the outside.
Finally, yesterday's game. Simply put, it wasn't the sharpest game of the year for the Aggies. Hey, it was a win though. Utah State put away San Jose State 78-73 in a game that the Spartans forced to the wire. You gotta give SJSU credit for the work that they did in defending Jaycee for most of the first half, however. 6-7 forward Tim Pierce received the defensive assignment on the 6-2 Carroll, and used his length and fairly decent speed to hold Jaycee to just 3 points with 3 minutes to play in the first half. At that point, the Spartans actually held a 27-23 lead on the Aggies. However, Carroll began to get more creative in finding decent looks, and was at 10 points on the night by the time a 32-all halftime rolled around.
Finally, USU began to break away from the 10-13 Spartans after intermission, and held a 50-40 lead eight minutes into the half. In fact, the lead got up to 62-47 following a DuCharme free throw with 8:03 to go in the game.
It just occurred to me, the Spartans outscored the Ags 26-14 the rest of the way? That's no good. Good thing SJSU sent the Aggies to the line a lot from that point on- Utah State went 18-22 from the line from there with just one field goal during that time.
Happy to say that Jaycee got going, though. He came out with a lot more energy and aggression in the second half and wound up with 26 points on 8-16 shooting. He had 11 rebounds too! He's only 6-2, and the Spartans played four players who were 6-8 or taller! That's impressive.
Gary scored 15 and grabbed eight boards, and Tai scored 13, but didn't grab a rebound. Hmmm. That's really surprising, especially considering how physical Tai plays.
Every Aggie played pretty well, except for DuCharme, who went 1-6 from the floor and badly missed two three-pointers. It has been interesting but kind of sad to see him struggle in recent games.
SJSU outrebounded USU 47-39. This is a stat that makes it quite remarkable that the Ags actually got this game in the bag. It isn't very often that you win when you get out-boarded by 8. That's simply an attribute to the Magic of the Spectrum. Good job, students.
The win was not perfect, but in conference play, you sure gotta take it. In fact, the Aggies must forget about it since they will have a load to deal with tomorrow at Reno in playing Nevada again, as the game was postponed from mid-January when snow conditions were so bad in Reno that the Aggies wouldn't have been able to make a safe flight into the Biggest Little City in the World.

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