SACRAMENTO, Calif. — There were some tears shed Thursday afternoon in the Utah State locker room, as well as in the media interview room.
The 10th-seeded Aggies had just seen their season come to an end. Seventh-seeded Missouri used a 13-2 run late in the game to secure a 76-65 win and advance.
Aggie head coach Ryan Odom and several of the four co-captains faced the media. Taylor Funk and Steven Ashworth were with Odom. All three had wet eyes by the time they left.
Picked to finish eighth in the Mountain West Conference in the preseason poll, the Aggies (26-9) finished in a tie for second with Boise State. USU reached the conference tournament championship and for just the fourth time in school history earned an at-large berth to the Big Dance.
“Looking at the season, made the best memories of my life with these guys,” said Funk as he started to tear up when asked to reflect on the season. “They’re my brothers. Credit to the coaching staff for bringing me out here. Wasn’t easy, you know. We had our ups and downs. Just the attitudes on this team has been positive, always. Steven (Ashworth), the kid’s one of the best leaders I have ever been around in my life. … next question.”
Odom was quick to jump in as Funk lowered his head.
“I think you can see these guys have a genuine care and love for one another, a brotherhood,” Odom said. “It’s hard to end your season. These guys have given the coaching staff, Cache Valley and the state of Utah for that matter, anybody that loves basketball, a tremendous amount of joy this season because of how they handle themselves, not only on the court but off the court. … Even though it hurts right now, as we begin to separate from it, as we go forward, then all it’s going to be is the laughs, right, the times together. The fun memories that we shared.”
Aggies 0-fer in River City
Utah State has played NCAA Tournament games in California’s capital city twice now. Neither have been kind to the Aggies.
The first time was 25 years ago. USU was a 12 seed and took on fifth-seeded Maryland. The Terrapins beat the Aggies, 82-68 in 1998.
Top 10 season for USU
The Aggies finished the season with 26 wins. It was the eighth time in program history that USU has won at least 26 games.
Overall, those 26 victories are tied for the seventh-most in a single season in school history. It is also the third time in the last five years that USU has won at least 26 games.
“What needs to be remembered and reflected upon as we march on into the spring is that this particular Aggie team gave the coaching staff and gave one another a tremendous amount of joy all season long,” Odom said. “No problems, no issues. Just love in the locker room for one another.
“Every day that we came to practice, it was just a happy group. It’s not like that everywhere. We’ve all certainly been a part of teams where it’s like you have to get ‘em going, get ‘em going to help realize the opportunity that they have. These guys wanted to play in this tournament. From this time last year, after we lost in the NIT, they wanted an opportunity at this.
Odom continued to expound on the season.
“It takes a lot of hard work,” the coach said. “You have to be really, really lucky, ‘cause it’s really, really, really, I say that all the time, right Steven? It’s really, really, really, really, really hard to win in college basketball.”
In his two seasons at the Aggie helm, Odom has guided USU to the postseason each season.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” Odom said. We have several seniors that I’m really proud of. The other guys as well, from the scout team to everybody involved in our program that invested in these guys in a big way. They gave us and our Aggie Nation a tremendous amount of joy.”
Moving up lists
Ashworth continues to move up many career lists at USU. He now has 1,031 career points, which are the 37th-most in school history. During the 2022-23 season Ashworth scored 567 points to rank as the 24th-most in school history.
He finished second in 3-pointers for a season with 111 and ended the year in eighth for career 3-pointers at 195.
Ashworth also finished ninth in assists for a season with 158. He is 10th in career dimes with 353.
MW gets a win
After going 0-4 last year and having lost 10 straight games collectively in the NCAA Tournament before the 2023 Big Dance began, the Aztecs ended the drought Thursday afternoon.
A fifth seed, San Diego State was trying to avoid the 12 seed upset. Charleston gave the Aztecs a battle to the end, but San Diego State won, 63-57.
Once again the Mountain West got four teams in this year and some media had been critical of the league getting that many in.
The win by San Diego State was a welcome relief for the conference and those that follow it. Nevada was boat raced in a First Four game Wednesday night, losing to Arizona State, 98-73. Then the Aggies lost by double digits.
Tenth-seeded Boise State played Northwestern in a game later Thursday evening. The Broncos lost, 75-67, leaving the Aztecs as the lone MW school to advance out of the first round.
Missouri head coach Dennis Gates earned an extra $25,000 with his team reaching 25 wins on the season. It is one of the bonuses built into his contract.
Gates can earn another bonus of $25,000 if the Tigers reach the Sweet Sixteen. That is also in his contract.
Being great, watch your step
After getting upset by Princeton, second-seeded Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd had an interesting comment about being composed after a tough loss.
“If you want to do great things in life, you got to be willing to step in some dog shit once in a while,” Lloyd said. “That’s just how it is. And we did today.”
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