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Utah State basketball puts season of rotten luck, heartbreak behind it

Published March 15, 2013 1:43 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Las Vegas, Nev. • The season came to an end late Thursday night. Utah State will gather the wagons around its injured group. If a postseason invitation comes along, they'll likely let it pass.

It's that kind of year, Stew Morrill said. One with four season-ending injuries. One with starters who used to be role players or seldom-played reserves. And even they were banged up.

"I don't think we would be given an opportunity," Morrill said of his 21-10 team. "On the slight chance we were invited, with the injuries and everything, our administration feels pretty strongly that maybe we just oughta shut 'er down."

It met its end quietly. Spencer Butterfield and Ben Clifford shuffled out with Morrill after answering a few questions - briefly and politely. And the door closed behind them, leaving a heartbreak season behind.

The loss to 83-78 UT Arlington was simply another in a recent chain of nail-biters that hadn't gone Utah State's way. The game with Mavericks went the way of Denver. It went the way of BYU.

It was in stark contrast to overtime wins against Santa Clara and Idaho. That was a season ago, Morrill often said.

It would've been one thing if the team had just lost. But they lost close games. It ate at them.

"I think it was a little deflating," Butterfield said of Utah State's back-and-forth battle. "They executed when we got the lead. We should have done a better job of playing defense. ... It was frustrating, we were so close to breaking it open."

That was what the whole latter half of the season felt like: If only they had made a few more free throws. If only they hadn't turned the ball over. If they just hadn't allowed that rebound.

But the season was one of heartbreak, and probably couldn't have gotten much better. Consider the players they lost, then consider the success they did have.

After arguably the two best players on the team were lost, the Aggies won seven games. With Utah State's depth, winning 21 games for the 14th straight year was a testament to a group that refused to quit.

The proof? The season could've ended in the first half, when the Aggies were down by 18. They never could completely overcome it - even when they led, they always lost it - but they didn't balk from charging back into it. A lesser team could've backed down.

That wasn't in the spirit of this team for Utah State. In 100 attempts, they might have never won the WAC championship this year. But they strode forward expecting to win, always trying to forget their disadvantages.

"That's a credit to these guys," Morrill said. "That little bit of adversity is nothing compared to losing four of your teammates for the season. So getting down that big, these guys weren't going to quit. They were going to keep fighting."

— Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon