LOGAN — When Utah State moved to the Mountain West Conference, head men's basketball coach Stew Morrill knew it would be a difficult transition. The team got a taste of how tough things will be in its first ever MWC game, a 73-72 loss at Air Force on Wednesday night.
Utah State (10-3) looks for its first win as a member of the conference Saturday night against San Jose State (6-7), the other school making a transition from the WAC this season.
Morrill has been through a conference transition before at Utah State. In 2005, the Aggies made the large leap from the Big West to the WAC. USU played its first ever WAC game on the road and suffered a 10-point beating at the hands of Hawaii. The Aggies went on to win their first game as a member of the conference against San Jose State their next time out and eventually reeled off an 11-5 conference record, advanced to the conference title game, and earned an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament.
“It woke our guys up to the challenges the WAC was going to present,” Morrill said about that game in Hawaii. “ ... If the Air Force game can serve as a reminder of how good this league is and help us respond, that would be one positive thing that came out of it. I’ve never been a big believer in positives out of losses, but we have to respond to a tough loss.”
Working in Utah State’s favor is the return of center Jarred Shaw, who did not play in the team’s last five games because of a suspension. Shaw was arrested in mid-December and suspended indefinitely until the legal matters were sorted out. On Friday, Shaw was reinstated to the team after pleading guilty to a third-degree felony marijuana possession charge, according to reports.
“There has been lots of speculation and untrue rumors regarding Jarred. Jarred Shaw is a student-athlete who graduates this spring and who made a mistake,” Morrill said in a statement. “This was his first offense and he has served his penalty by missing five games. We will go forward from here, and our team is certainly excited to have Jarred back.”
Shaw is the Aggies' leading scorer and shot-blocker at 16.1 points and 1.4 blocks per game. He and also ranks second in rebounding at 7.8 per contest. Without Shaw the Aggies went 4-1, but missed his scoring presence and rebounding ability against Air Force on Wednesday night.
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company