Utah State, riding a three-game win streak, came into Saturday afternoon’s game against the UNLV Running Rebels with hopes to climb its way back into the Mountain West Conference race.
The game started out much like the first time the Aggies and the Rebels played earlier in January with the Rebels playing solid defense and the Aggies sporadically looking to make a basket. UNLV forward Khem Birch made that really difficult for the Aggies all night. He tallied up nine blocks in the game.
The Aggies looked to have some control going into the second half, but the Rebels came out on fire making their first six shots, whereas the Aggies struggled most of the second half shooting below 40 percent. A late second-half surge from the Aggies kept it interesting but the Rebel defense proved to be too much for the Aggies, and the Rebels survived the Spectrum 73-62.
USU Guards: D+
There is something about this USU frontcourt that fans just can’t trust. The starting two guards Preston Medlin and Tenale Rowland scored 18 points between the both of them. Rowland scored 12 of those points and nearly tripling his season average of 4.8 points per game, and one of the reasons why I didn’t give this group a lower grade. Unlike Rowland, I hold Medlin to another standard but maybe I should start lowering those expectations. Or maybe he just doesn’t do well against the Rebels shooting 3 for 20 and totaling up nine points in the two games. The Aggies will need Medlin going forward if they want any hopes in making the NCAA Tournament, hopefully they don’t run into the Rebels in the conference tournament.
USU Forwards: C-
Aggie starting forwards, Spencer Butterfield and Kyle Davis, struggled from the night shooting 6 for 23 and a combine 15 points. Butterfield was able to hit two 3-pointers to give a spark to the Aggies at different points throughout the game. Coming off the bench freshman Jalen Moore provided solid defense and even nailed a key 3-pointer to tie the game midway through the second half. Ever since his knee injury sophomore Kyle Davis hasn’t had much impact for the Aggies, but his effort on the glass allows the Aggies to get a few more looks at the basket. If the Aggies want anything to do with conference tournament they better hope that the play of Davis comes back and Butterfield shot doesn’t disappear.
USU Centers: B+
The one bright spot for the Aggies Jarred Shaw led the Aggies with 20 points and 12 rebounds. This feat is really impressive considering that Shaw was going against the former Mountain West Conference defensive player of the year in Birch. If it is one thing that I’ve learned this season is that Shaw has some of the best post moves in country, and Birch found that out Saturday. Along with Shaw’s performance the backup center Jordan Stone played some key minutes in the first half scoring four points, adding a block and an assist that led to a Medlin dunk. It’s a shame that the other players weren’t competing on the level of Shaw and Stone, but maybe that had something to do with UNLV’s defense Then again Shaw managed to do this against one of the best defenders in the country.
USU Coaching: B-
It’s obvious that UNLV was the more talented team, but USU head coach Stew Morrill had a good game plan in the first half and the minutes were given out justifiably in the first half. It was clear that UNLV was struggling against the zone in the first half, but the Aggies may have stayed in the zone for a few minutes too long. In the closing minutes of the second half it was apparent that the Aggies should have left the zone after the Rebels scored on consecutive open lay ups. Also, Shaw sat on the bench far too long and when he entered the game the lead was far out of reach with little time remaining.
USU Crowd: C+
I attended the San Diego State game, so you could say my perception of the Utah State student section is extremely high. I really do enjoy going to Aggie games just to witness the atmosphere the student section creates, and when it is full it is one of the must see arenas in the country. That being said, the crowd was noticeably empty and maybe it had to do with being an early game on a long weekend, but even with the lack of students the crowd was still loud all game long. With only two home games remaining the Aggie faithful should come out and support its team, because when the Spectrum is full the Aggies are a completely different team, just look at the San Diego State game in January.
UNLV Guards: A
The guards of UNLV were feasting against the USU defense, Kevin Olekaibe and Bryce Dejean-Jones led the Rebel attack scoring a combined 38 points and draining five 3’s along with it. Olekaibe sparked the Rebels in the second half nailing back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Rebels the lead. In the closing minutes Dejean-Jones made layup after layup on the Aggie defense. Let’s not forget about the Rebel defense holding the USU guards to 12 points.
UNLV Forwards: B+
The forward for UNLV played outstanding defense all night long and was the main reason why the Aggies had a terrible shooting percentage for the night. Birch had nine blocks for the game and no doubt he altered a few other shots as well. Birch also scored the first six points for the Rebels and was one block away from a triple-double. Roscoe Smith, the nation’s leading rebounder, had an off game from a rebounding perspective but he made his presence felt on the defensive side of the ball blocking two shots.
UNLV Head Coach: B+
UNLV coach Dave Rice is proving to be one of the greatest young coaches in the league. It isn’t a surprise that he has led the Rebels to the tournament all three years that he’s been their head coach. If it weren’t for Shaw the Aggies would have been annihilated by the Rebels, and that has to do with the UNLV coaching staff and its importance on defense. Not to mention rebounding, the Rebels seem to do all the little things to get the job done, and I have to give Rice and his staff the credit for that. However, this night the Aggies managed to control the boards throughout the game, but that is a rare scenario for the Rebels where the usually beat their opponents on the boards by a large number.
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