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Kragthorpe: Utah State hoops season has strange ending

Published March 26, 2012 10:55 am

College Basketball •
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The kind of Utah State basketball season that coach Stew Morrill always warned about has become more bizarre than even he could have imagined.

Who could have pictured a Morrill team allowing 81 points and winning by 24? Or USU staging four home games with the total attendance not matching the Spectrum's 10,270-seat capacity? Or the Aggies winning four postseason games, which represents four more victories than stars such as Jaycee Carroll, Spencer Nelson, Nate Harris, Gary Wilkinson and Tai Wesley produced in their USU careers?

After the Aggies' 105-81 victory over Oakland in the semifinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament — on Sunday in Logan, which is a story in itself — Morrill said, "This tournament has been extremely positive for us."

Except that based on the attendance clause in his contract, Morrill may be losing money. USU's season average has dipped to 8,513 after a total of 10,209 fans have attended the four tournament games.

That's partly explained by two games becoming conducted during spring break on campus and another being played on Sunday, because a gymnastics meet made the Spectrum unavailable Saturday. The students (free admission) and patrons ($17 tickets) may respond Wednesday when USU plays for the championship against Mercer.

Otherwise, this two-week exercise will have served mostly to provide the Aggies experience for next season, extend Morrill's run of attractive records and ruin his story.

Years from now, all anybody will know is USU posted 21 (or 22) wins in 2011-12, overlooking how the Aggies stood 17-15 after losing in the first round of the Western Athletic Conference tournament. That was not far off the doomsday projection of Morrill, who once said, "We could realign expectations around here with a couple of 15-15 seasons."

As it is, Morrill will barely miss extending his 12-year run of 23 victories or more. The CIT is cosmetically improving the Aggies' season, leaving USU only this regret: The tournament format calls for just a title game, not a best-of-three championship series like the CBI.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt