It was definitely the start the Aggies wanted Thursday morning at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
The finish, well, not so much.
The Utah State women’s basketball team opened the 2019-20 season with a 70-64 loss against Portland in front of 2,600 screaming fans. Local and regional elementary school children were invited for the day-time game.
The Aggies (0-1) had enjoyed a 12-point lead in the first quarter.
“I thought our girls played hard,” USU associate head coach Ben Finkbeiner said. “We started the game off the way we wanted to start. We want to be fast starters. Basketball is more than a fast start. I was pleased with how we started and felt we were ready to play.”
Finkbeiner coached the team in place of his father, Jerry Finkbeiner, who is on a medical leave of absence for a non-life threatening health condition. He is dealing with some feet issues and has been in a lot of pain.
The Aggies shot 45 percent from the floor over the first 10 minutes. By the end of the game, USU was shooting 35.5 percent. Meanwhile, the Pilots (1-0) shot 52.8 percent for the game.
“We had good effort but just didn’t make our shots,” Aggie guard Steph Gorman said. “We had good intensity, just couldn’t put that ball in the hole. That’s what killed us in the end. ... I guess back to the drawing board. Practice makes perfect.”
Finkbeiner pointed out that USU took 23 more shots than Portland, which should be a positive. But the Aggies had a hard time knocking down some open looks or taking full advantage of more possessions due to turnovers by the Pilots.
“They (Pilots) either had a turnover or a layup,” Ben Finkbeiner said. “We took care of the ball, but didn’t shoot the percentage we wanted to shoot. ... If we are going to be a championship team, we’ve got to figure out ways to overcome bad-shooting nights and figuring out a way to put the ball in the hole. ... When you shoot 23 more shots than your opponent, you expect to win those games.”
Portland had 21 turnovers in the game, while USU had just nine. However, seven of those Aggie turnovers took place in the second half, and the Pilots took advantage of most of them.
“We prepared for them (Pilots) pressure us and a they did early on and we tore right through it,” Ben Finkbeiner said. “They adjusted and we adjusted, but not as effectively as we needed to.”
The Aggies had four players finish in double-figure scoring. Hailey Bassett led the way with 14 point and also grabbed a team-best seven rebounds. Bassett also blocked three shots.
Joining Bassett in reaching double digits in scoring was Marlene Aniambossou (12), Gorman (12) and Lindsey Jensen-Baker (11). Faith Brantley dished out five assists. Gorman had a career-high six steals and matched her career-best with five rebounds.
“I think our defense is really good and it puts us in the place to get steals,” Gorman said. “That’s a credit to coach and his defensive style.”
The Pilots had two players record double-doubles in Haylee Andrews (18 points, 13 rebounds) and Alex Fowler (16, 13). Maddie Muhlheim netted 16 points.
Emmie Harris gave the Aggies their largest lead of the game, 18-6, at the 4:31 mark of the opening quarter when she drilled a 3-pointer. USU took a 24-16 lead into the second quarter and led at the break, 37-34.
“I thought we started really well; that was our brand of basketball,” Gorman said. “They adjusted and we didn’t adjust properly to that.”
The Pilots took their first lead of the game, 38-37, at the 8:49 mark of the third quarter. After five lead changes, Portland used a 10-0 run powered by seven points from Andrews to take a 53-48 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I think we got tired and had some mental breaks that killed us,” Gorman said. “... That’s just not how we play and that’s how that run (by Portland) happened.”
Muhlheim gave Portland its largest lead of the game, 58-50, with a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter.
Jensen-Baker sparked a 7-0 Aggie run with a three-point play. Aniambossou and Bassett both scored to pull the hosts within 58-57 with 6:20 to play.
Gorman drilled a shot from beyond the arc to give USU its last lead of the game, 62-61. The Aggies would only score two points of the last four-and-a-half minutes of the contest, while the Pilots scored nine to get the victory.
“We kept playing hard, but we need to make more shots,” Gorman said. “... We played good, but just need to make those shots.”
USU remains at home with a evening game on Saturday at the Spectrum. The Aggies host Seattle (1-0) with the game tipping off at 7 o’clock.
“We’ve just got to get better and improve,” Ben Finkbeiner said. “I think we have the right stuff in and we are excited for our next game. I like the direction of our team.”