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Digging holes in the first half caught up with the Aggie women Friday night.

Utah State did get out of the initial deep hole, but ran out of gas down the stretch against Loyola Marymount in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The Lions were able to finish and pick up their first win of the season, 69-66.

“We played really, really bad the first half and decided we wanted to get it together in the second half,” USU head coach Kayla Ard said. “I think we dug just too big of a hole. We’ve gotten lucky a couple times this year, digging a hole and being able to dig out of it. We did dig out of it tonight, but by that time had exhausted all of our energy that we couldn’t finish the game.”

The Aggies (2-2) had a big third quarter to get back in the game after trailing by 15. They took their first lead of the contest early in the fourth, but then went more than five minutes without scoring. They spelled doom for USU.

“We ran out of gas there and went on a scoring drought,” Ard said. “We were getting stops, but couldn’t score. We can’t have that.”

The Lions (1-2) made just enough free throws to hold on for the win.

Kaylin Randhawa led USU with a game-high 19 points, making all six of her free throws. Faith Brantley came off the bench to net 15 points.

“She (Brantley) helped us quite a bit,” Ard said. “She is exhausted, been out for a while. We’ve been missing her. It’s really nice to have her back. … That is a kid (Randhawa) that has no fear. She doesn’t mind taking the big shots and is confident.”

Randhawa and Brantley were joined in double-digit scoring by E’Lease Stafford with 11 points. Laci Hawthorne grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, while Randhawa paced the team in assists with three. Stafford and Randhawa each had four steals.

The Lions had five players reach double figures in scoring. Kimora Sykes and Jasmine Jones each led the way with 14, followed by Khari Clark (12), Nicole Rodriguez (11) and Ariel Johnson (10). Johnson had a double-double as she grabbed a game-best 10 boards, and also had a game-high six assists.

The Lions jumped out to an 11-4 lead to start the game, drilling a trio of 3-pointers. The Aggies called a timeout.

A 6-0 run boosted the visitors to a double-digit lead. Johnson had four points as LMU built a 21-11 lead late in the opening quarter.

USU did score the final four points of the first quarter and began the second with three for a 7-0 run. Hawthrone scored the last three points to pull the Aggies within 21-18 two minutes into the second quarter.

It was still a three-point game with five minutes left in the first half. But then the Lions started scoring in bunches again. Jones had eight points as LMU finished the second quarter on a 18-6 surge. The Lions took a 43-28 lead into the break. Jones and Sykes each had 10 points for LMU in the first 20 minutes.

“The first half really hurt us,” Ard said. “We need to grow up and mature so that we don’t dig those holes.”

The Aggies immediately started clawing back, scoring the first four points of the third quarter. The best was yet to come from the hosts.

Randhawa sank a jumper to trigger nine unanswered points that turned into a 14-2 run. Hawthorne capped it with a bucket in the paint as USU pulled within 49-48. The Lions took a 51-50 lead into the final period.

“We just waited too long to start digging out,” Ard said. “We can’t wait until the second half to turn it on.”

Adryana Quezada gave the Aggies their first lead of the game 11 seconds into the fourth quarter with a bucket off the glass. Brantley gave USU its largest lead, 55-52, with a 3-pointer at the 8:16 mark of the fourth.

But all the energy it took to fight back started to show. The Aggies stalled on offense on a number of possessions, and the Lions started to make buckets again.

Loyola Marymount went on a 14-2 run — the last nine points unanswered as USU went more than five minutes without scoring. A layup by Clark gave the visitors a 66-57 lead with 2:23 to play.

Randhawa was fouled shooting a 3-pointer and made all three free frees, and then drilled a trey on the next possession to keep hopes of a comeback win alive, as USU was within 66-63 with 1:27 left in the contest.

The Lions made 3 of 6 free throws to get the win as Brantley hit a 3-pointer with a second to play.

“As long as we learn from it tonight, I’m OK with taking the L tonight,” Ard said. “I would rather it be a win tonight. We have to learn from this.”

After practicing or playing for 10 straight days, the Aggies will take a day off Saturday before preparing for BYU. They take on the Cougars in Provo on Tuesday.

“We need to focus on getting healthy and getting some rest,” Ard said. “We will put together a game plan to go down and compete with BYU. They are a very good basketball team. I’m just happy we get to drive and not fly.”

Shawn Harrison is the sports editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at sharrison@hjnews.com or 435-792-7233.

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