Pity the poor Utah State Aggies. They're oh-and-three, and they haven't even left the state yet. After meeting BYU and Shawn the Giant in back-to-back games, the Aggies ventured to Salt Lake City Tuesday night to meet the University of Utah, and what happens? Josh Grant, Phil Dixon and somebody named Paul Afeaki play out of their minds during the first half, and the Aggies are history, again.
Score this one Utah 84, Utah State 76.Utah opened a huge 24-point lead in the first half, and USU could get no closer than six points the rest of the night, and then only in the final seconds.
In the meantime, the game went a long way in showing that 1) Grant plays so smoothly and efficiently at times that it's easy to take him for Grant-ed; 2) Jay Goodman might be the best newcomer in the state and certainly its best bargain; 3) Afeaki, another newcomer, is already turning into a force in the post; and 4) Dixon is playing incredibly well for a guy who's still supposed to be slightly crippled.
Still, the game belonged mostly to Grant and Goodman, who staged a bombs-away scoring duel. Grant got the victory, but they came up even in the stat box. Grant's line was suitable for framing: 25 points, 9 rebounds, 8-of-12 shooting (3 of 5 treys), 2 assists, 1block, and, OK, 3 turnovers.
"I had such a crappy game against Michigan I had to do something to redeem myself," he said.
Then there was Goodman, a marvelous 5-foot-11 guard who almost single-handedly rallied the Aggies in the second half. After scoring 39 points in the two games against BYU, Goodman struck for 28 against Utah - 21 of them in the second half, when he made 5 of 6 shots from three-point range.
"In the first half I tried to be patient," he explained. "In the second half, I looked more for my shot. We played so badly in the first half, I tried to take over in the second half."
In all, Goodman made 8 of 13 field goal attempts (6 of 10 treys), 6 of 6 free throws, 6 assists, 4 steals and 4 turnovers.
"He's one helluva player," said Utah coach Rick Majerus. "I told our guys that. He passes well, he handles the ball well, he shoots well."
And to think, Iowa State had Goodman for a year, but wouldn't give him a scholarship.
Heaven knows where the Aggies would have been Tuesday without him. They were overwhelmed by the Utes in the first half, as anyone would have been. Holding an 11-point lead, the Utes made a 17-4 burst in the last seven minutes of the half to open a 50-28 halftime lead. Grant buried a trey, Dixon buried another trey, then sank a hurried, fading 12-footer from the baseline. Grant made a baby hook in the lane, and Craig Rydalch made another trey . . . and the run was on.
In all, the Utes made 20 of 32 field goal attempts in the first half (63 percent), including 7 of 11 treys. They also outrebounded the Ags 20-6.
"They just shot great in the first half," said Goodman. "It wasn't so much us and what they did."
Indeed, in the first half Dixon made 5 of 5 field goal attempts, including all three of his treys, and then was gone. He took only one other shot the rest of the night (and missed). He played only 17 minutes total, but finished with 13 points. Not bad for someone who is still recovering from a year-old accident (he fell through a window and severed a major nerve in his lower left leg), and still can't jump or move laterally with abandon.
"He played only 17 minutes, and that's about right, because we'd like to play him Thursday (against Oregon)," said Majerus.
Majerus, however, had altogether different thoughts about Afeaki. "We probably should have played him more," said the coach. "He played really well. He's starting to come on."
Afeaki, who, besides missing most of preseason practice with an injury, missed all of last season, had his best game as a Ute, producing 11 points and 9 rebounds in just 14 minutes of reserve duty.
For their part, the Aggies were down but not quite out at halftime. Coach Kohn Smith benched Rich Jardine - who had scored 40 points in the first two games - in the second half, because "he wasn't feeling very well, and I didn't think he was rebounding playing good defense." Not to mention that he didn't take a single shot.
Thanks to Goodman's shooting, USU whittled Utah's lead to nine points with three minutes to play, and to six with 15 seconds to play, but the Utes made enough free throws to hold off the rally.
"It's a real tough thing emotionally to be down at half that far," said Smith. "I was proud of the way the guys battled back."