Losses to BYU aren’t easy, in the way that it’s not easy to lose to a brother.
Utah State (5-1) wasn’t happy about losing to the Cougars 85-74 at EnergySolutions Arena, and it certainly wasn’t thrilled with losing a first-half lead the way that it did. But if there’s any consolation after the fact it’s this: The Aggies competed for most of the game, and they’ll have a month to get ready before plunging into the icy waters of the Mountain West.
“We’re going to have to get better, and it’s early in the year,” coach Stew Morrill said Saturday night. “BYU’s got a really good basketball team. If we can get to where we can defend a little better, we’ll have a nice team.”
A bitter nonconference loss to the Aggies’ chief in-state rival hasn’t changed the outlook for the year, even if it threw a wrench in their hopes to finish the calendar year undefeated.
Early on, Utah State showed it had the foundation to field a competitive team, even against the likes of BYU, which has flirted with a top-25 ranking this season.
When the Aggies are hot, they can play with good teams. As a first-half shooting display (59.4 percent from the floor) showed, they can be efficient with the ball in their hands. Offensively, any one of four — Preston Medlin, Jarred Shaw, Spencer Butterfield and Kyle Davis — have shown the ability to lead in scoring.
On Saturday, however, Utah State’s defense faltered and let BYU’s scoring get out of control. That was the dominant feeling Saturday night because the Aggies lost, but even still they were hopeful it was a correctable issue.
“I don’t know what it was in the second half,” Butterfield said. “It seemed to be a lot of in-and-outs, seemed like they were right there, they just weren’t going down. But we’ve got to play defense when that happens.”
Stat-wise, Utah State is still one of the better-shooting teams in the country. Stat website KenPom.com ranks the Aggies No. 29 in the country, and they hit 43.1 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. Rebounding the ball, Utah State grabs three-fourths of its potential defensive boards, ranking No. 20 in that metric.
Still, struggles against transition offenses and slashing scorers have lingered on defense, and the Aggies will have time to work on that with six straight home games, and only two in the next two weeks. Long breaks in between with underdog opponents could help cure what ails them.
That starts next Saturday against Pacific.
“We just need to not have our heads down and come back to work this week so we can come back and play a good Pacific team,” Butterfield said.
Home for the holidays
Starting Saturday, Utah State will play six straight games in the Spectrum against opponents it will be favored to beat:
Saturday • Pacific, 7 p.m.
Dec. 14 • Utah Valley, 7 p.m.
Dec. 19 • Western Illinois, 8 p.m.
Dec. 20 • UC Santa Barbara, 8 p.m.
Dec. 21 • Troy, 8 p.m.
Dec. 28 • San Diego Christian, 7 p.m.