Aggies hope shooting defrosts against San Jose State
Along with the weather, shooting got colder when the Aggies returned to Logan last week.
Maybe it was sub-zero temperatures, or maybe it was just the tougher competition. But after shooting a blistering 56.9 percent on its Texas roadtrip, Utah State cooled down to 42.2 percent against Seattle and Idaho at the Spectrum.
It doesn't do much to boost the program's reputation as a homecourt defender, but still the Aggies escaped with two wins. But concerns should be high this week as San Jose State comes to town, boasting one of the best shooting percentage defenses in the WAC.
It starts with Alex Brown, who boasts a two-and-a-half block per game average, and the rest of the Spartans set the town with energy and effort on defense - the kind Morrill would like to see more of from his own team.
"Having a shotblocker inside is always positive," Morrill said in his Thursday conference call. "But I'm not sure it's anyone thing. The players have put more emphasis on the defensive end."
The overall effort by San Jose has translated to opponents shooting under 40 percent from the field, and only about 31 percent from 3-point range. The Aggies have been one of the best-shooting teams in the country this year, but the recent tail-off is a bit of a cause for concern.
Morrill will be just as concerned about his own defense. SJSU's James Kinney is the WAC's leading scorer at 20.6 points per game. The way Utah State has been burned by shooters this year, the Aggies have spent a lot of time this week considering how best to bottle up the explosive guard.
"We've had some troubles in game prep," Morrill said. "I don't know if it's any specific holes. It's that we have to be able to guard better than we do right now. If we guard better, we won't give up threes."
Added Morrill: "It's not like it's insurmountable. We'll get better as we go along. But we need our defense to be better. Our defense has got to make progress. We don't by nature have guys who think defense first. Kyisean may be the exception. But everybody on our team needs to put defense as a priority."
Matt Lopez, Jordan Stone will keep trading time
After playing only five minutes in the last seven games, sophomore center Jordan Stone got some run last Saturday against Idaho. He played 11 tough minutes mostly matched up with Kyle Barone, and was the go-to guy at center when Jarred Shaw fouled out.
Matt Lopez, who has been Shaw's main back-up since he became eligible in December, had only six minutes.
The way Morrill sees it, those minutes could stay fairly even between the two as Utah State goes deeper into WAC play. Stone is a defense-first guy who can set good screens and bang inside for rebounds. Lopez is seen more as an offensive option, but aside from a strong debut against Utah Valley, he has yet to fulfill that promise.
But Morrill isn't worried about one outperforming the other, saying that both centers have kept a good attitude about their minutes. Even when Stone was mostly confined to the bench, he was energetic on the scout team. And Lopez is slowly maturing as he gets used to playing the college game.
"Depending on the game, we'll go with who we think can help us the most," Morrill said.
Aggies resting up this week
Only one game on Friday gives Utah State a relaxing break before their next road trip. Morrill said with the Friday game, the Aggies will almost certainly get a break on Saturday or Sunday.
It's almost a vacation compared to the seven-game slate they went through in the previous two-and-a-half weeks. Morrill emphasized he would be reading the needs of his team, whether they need a day off or keep going to the gym.
"Our legs and our minds needed a little rest with one game," Morrill said . "We will just have to see how the game goes and what my feelings are. A lot of those times, those things are gut feelings on what you need most: rest or work."
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon