Trailing UC-Santa Barbara by 10 points at halftime Thursday night, Utah State coach Kohn Smith chewed out his players in the locker room. Guard Kendall Youngblood proceded to score 27 of his career-high 34 points in the second half, but it was all to no avail. The Aggies still lost the game, 98-82, and an opportunity to move up in the Big West standings.
The University of Pacific, the third-place team in the Big West, had left the door open by losing to New Mexico State Thursday. The fourth-place Aggies could have moved into a third-place tie with one game left in the regular season by beating UCSB.The Gauchos, 7-10 and losers in four of their previous five games, shot 70 percent in the second half to beat the Aggies, 8-9.
Santa Barbara forward Lucious Davis scored 25 of his 27 points in the second half, pivot Gary Gray totaled 24 points and 14 rebounds and sophomore guard Mike Meyer scored 19 points.
All the while, the Aggies were frustrating Smith, who didn't even have much good to say about Youngblood, who had a career-high 29 in his last game and then topped that by five.
"He was much better the second half. We need two halves out of him," Smith said. He said at halftime the Aggies needed to get the ball to Youngblood more, but he told him he'd have to move to get open, too.
"We got a poor game out of our guards, especially the first half," Smith said. "If our guards play like that, we're in a little bit of trouble."
Smith also said senior Allen Gordon "played poorly" and came down on sophomore guard Jay Goodman, who'd scored 31 against Santa Barbara in their game at Logan on Jan. 4, an 81-75 USU win. Goodman was 1-for-11 from the field and had six points Thursday. "He's been playing awful since he got hurt (two ankle sprains). He hasn't been worth a darn," Smith said.
The only player in double figures besides Youngblood was freshman Bryon Ruffner with 15.
Smith credited Santa Barbara's aggressive, bullying defense for taking the fight out of Utah State almost immediately. The Gauchos went up 20-10.
"The first half they were able to aggressively take it to us, and I was disappointed our players didn't respond.
"We were waiting for the officials to call the hand-check," Smith said. They didn't, and the Aggies never got into it offensively, shooting 6-for-19 from the field the first half when they were down by 10 and finishing 24-for-58. They missed 14 free throws as well.
"And then they got the ball inside on us way too easily," Smith said.
Coach Jerry Pimm had said prior to the game that Priority One was to get the ball to Gray, who hadn't been shooting enough. Conscious of that, the Aggies tried to help out at the low post and left Davis free at the high post. Once Davis got his shooting rhythm, USU couldn't stop him even by adjusting.
USU came back to 21-17, with the first of four Youngblood three-pointers starting them in the right direction, but then they went seven minutes without a field goal until a Randy Funk basket with 1:33 left in the half. They ended up down 36-26 at the half, having turned the ball over 13 times, seven times on Gaucho steals.
They cut the turnovers to three the second half and made 21 of 39 shots, but the Gauchos were 23-for-33 the second half.
AGGIE NOTES: They're 1-1 on bomb-threat days, having beaten Pacific Jan. 17 when a bomb threat cleared the USU campus but lost to UCSB on a day when three pipe bombs were found on campus and the registrar's office was destroyed by fire . . . Youngblood now has 1,248 career points and leapfrogged two places into 14th on the all-time Aggie career list; he needs just eight more to move to 13th and 19 to move to 12th.