It’s hard to be critical over a 20-point win.
But the Aggies would be the first to admit there was room for improvement after their latest victory. Utah State did trail for just over three minutes Wednesday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum against Wyoming. In the end, the Aggies were just much better than the Cowboys, recording a 78-58 Mountain West Conference win.
“It got a little sloppy at the start of the game and midway through the second half, but I thought for the most part we played great,” Aggie guard Abel Porter said. “We had good energy and a good feel to us tonight. (Justin) Bean and Neemi (Queta) were beasts on the boards tonight, and that was great for us. Sam (Merrill) had an all-around great game. Wyoming kind of makes things messy when you play, and that happened again tonight.”
USU (22-7, 11-5 MW) had 16 turnovers for the game. Wyoming (6-21, 1-14) turned those turnovers into 16 points. However, the Aggies turned 14 Cowboy turnovers into 22 points. Still, the mistakes did not sit well with head coach Craig Smith.
“We got off to a good start, had a bad stretch in the middle, then ended the first half in a very good fashion,” Smith said. “We had a great start to the second half, as well. Then we kind of played a little tentatively with six turnovers in a short amount of time. They (Cowboys) cut it to 10, then we were able to answer the bell.”
Yes, the Aggies answered the bell each time the Cowboys rung it.
“We made some decisions that were pretty uncharacteristic for us,” said USU forward Justin Bean, who had his 14th double-double of the season with 20 points and 14 rebounds. “Coach told us at one of the media timeouts that we needed to play better, be smarter and trust each other more, and I thought we did that.”
The Aggies did end up with 18 assists on 28 field goals. USU shot 50 percent from the field, marking the eighth time this season the Aggies have made half of their shots are better. USU is 8-0 in those games.
“While we had some lulls, the silver lining is we made 28 baskets and had 18 assists,” Smith said. “That’s a good number.”
Merrill led the Aggies with a game-high 26 points. Joining Merrill and Bean in double-figure scoring was Porter with 10. Queta joined Bean in double digit rebounds with a game-best 15.
The Cowboys shot 36.8 percent from the field. They were the 17th USU opponent to make less than 40 percent of their shots.
USU have now won five in a row and eight of its last nine games. The Aggies are currently in second place in the MW standings, a half game up on Nevada and a full game ahead of Boise State. Colorado State and UNLV are tied for fifth a game and a half behind USU.
“We are getting healthy and starting to hit our stride,” Porter said. “I feel we are getting more into a rhythm.”
“We are definitely a lot more confident than we were,” Bean said. “I think it comes from having a lot of great practices. ... It’s been fun to see everyone come together, trust each other and just make plays. We need to keep putting trust in each other and pull through for each other.”
The Aggies have almost a week until they play again. They host San Jose State in the regular season home finale next Tuesday at 9 p.m. The seniors will be honored before the game. The Spartans (7-20, 3-12) hosted Boise State Wednesday night and lost, 80-62. USU and SJSU met way back in early December in California with the Aggies winning, 71-59.
“At the end of the day, we took care of business,” Smith said. “We go into our last bye, a six-day spread. It will be good for us, we'll hopefully tighten a few things up and keep pressing forward.”
The coach was asked about having six days off and if there was any concern the time between games.
“Last year we had a nine days off,” Smith said. “When you are playing well and in a good rhythm, you never want a break, although, I don’t think it will be a terrible thing.”