LAS VEGAS — Last year, the Utah State basketball team passed on any possible postseason basketball tournaments, despite winning 21 games, because coach Stew Morrill thought his team was too injured and beat up to continue playing.
This year, the Aggies haven’t had as good of a season — they're 18-14 after Thursday’s loss — and are much healthier, but Morrill’s attitude hasn’t changed.
When asked about postseason possibilities — the CBI or CIT tournaments — Morrill said it was “unlikely’’ the Aggies would choose to participate, saying the players, fan base and USU administration weren’t “overly excited" about those events.
Then he caught himself and said, “We’re probably assuming a lot to even think we’d be asked. We finished eighth and just got beat by 35. I mean, who the hell are we to think we might go to the postseason?’’
Then he added, "We don't ever want to snub our nose at anything. But given the circumstances, if someone did ask ... I think it would be unlikely.''
SLAPPED IN THE FACE: This was Utah State’s first year in the Mountain West Conference, and it turned out to be a bit of an eye-opener for the Aggies.
USU had been a dominant team in both the Big West and WAC, but found the going rough this year in the Mountain West, where it finished in a tie for eighth with a 7-11 record.
“It’s been an interesting journey,’’ Morrill said. “The Mountain West, the venues, the talent level, it’s a huge jump. I think you’re talking about a league that’s underrated across the country.’’
Morrill said he was familiar with a lot of the teams who used to play in the old WAC from 20 years ago when he coached at Colorado State. But he still was surprised by what he and his team experienced this year.
“I knew the challenges were going to be there,’’ he said. “But I’ve been away from it long enough that it kind of slapped me in the face this year.’’
AZTECS HAPPY WITH EX-UTE: Former University of Utah recruit J.J. O’Brien has been a mainstay for San Diego State, starting 63 of 64 games for Steve Fisher’s team the past two years.
O’Brien has averaged 8.3 points and 4.9 rebounds this year, although he had a quiet game Thursday, scoring just four points with four assists in just 17 minutes.
The 6-foot-7, 220-pound junior forward was one of Jim Boylen’s top recruits out of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., in 2010. After being injured the first few weeks of his freshman season at Utah in 2010-11, O’Brien started 21 of 22 games and averaged 6.4 points and 5.5 rebounds.
However, he chose not to return to play when Larry Krystkowiak became coach at Utah and sat out a year at San Diego State before averaging 7.2 ppg and 4.5 rpg in 2012-13.
AGGIE NOTES: The Aggies’ point total was their lowest since scoring 33 against Santa Barbara in a 53-33 loss in 1994. ... San Diego State outrebounded USU 35-27, marking the 10th time this season the Aggies have been outboarded. ... USU shot a season-low 29.3 percent from the field and just 10 percent from 3-point range. ... Senior guard Preston Medlin matched his season low with three points and now has 1,368 career points to rank 16th in USU history.
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