When Kendall Youngblood was fouled with :05 left in overtime and the score tied at 91 at University of the Pacific Saturday, he told himself the game was over. He told teammates the game was over. He was that confident of his free-throw shooting (80 percent for the season). But he missed the first of the one-and-one, and the Aggies went into a second OT and lost by eight.
"It was real hard for me not to win the game for us. I feel like I let the team down," Youngblood said Wednesday by phone from his home, where he was recuperating from flu.Add to his misery the fact that tonight's opponent is New Mexico State, the 14th-/15th-ranked team in the nation and the team that broke his 28-game streak of scoring in double figures in Las Cruces three weeks ago.
"I have to step it up for the rest of the season," declares Youngblood.
"He always tries to come back hard," says Aggie Coach Kohn Smith. "He's practiced really hard."
Smith and the USU Aggies (in fourth place at 7-7, 10-13 overall) could use a big game from Youngblood as New Mexico State (second, 11-2, 19-3) invades the Smith Spectrum at 7:30 tonight. It's USU's final home weekend of the season in a home-win league, and it has a chance to tie its mark for best home league record at 8-1 if it beats NMS and Long Beach State (Saturday).
New Mexico State's game hinges on its defense - an extended, trapping zone that left USU's Randy Funk (21 points) free to roam underneath in the Jan. 26 game but makes it hard on the guards, resulting in steals and cripples at the other end.
"We have to handle the ball better," says Smith, remembering the Southern Aggies' 12 steals and the Northern Aggies' 24 turnovers the last game. "It's very important. We will have to play the three guards (Youngblood, Allen Gordon and Jay Goodman) together quite a bit against New Mexico State."
But Goodman, says Smith, doesn't seem fully recovered from two ankle sprains. He played last week and had a career-high 10 assists off the bench at Fresno, but his shooting was off.
That could add to Youngblood's responsibilities. "With their zone," says Youngblood, "I have to handle the ball a lot, and when I do, I don't get my shots." He took only five shots at Las Cruces and scored seven points. Youngblood averages 17.5 points and nearly 14 shots a game.
Goodman averages 17.0 points a game, and Gordon 6.4.
New Mexico State, on its last road swing, is coming off an 86-74 loss at No. 1 UNLV. It was the closest league game yet for UNLV and the Rebels' second-lowest-scoring game of the season. UNLV started off up 25-7, but NMS outscored the Rebs 67-61 for the next 30 minutes.
"They have those spurts," remembers Youngblood about NMS. Surviving them is critical.