Las Vegas • Aggies coach Jerry Finkbeiner told his team he thought they had evolved into the best team in the Mountain West over the last few weeks leading into the conference tournament.
For most of Tuesday’s game against the best team in the league, they assumed the part. But in the final minute, Utah State’s March Madness dreams slipped away.
The Aggies were shot away from busting the bracket but Utah State’s shot — and its bid at upsetting top-seeded Colorado State — fell short. The Rams took over the lead in the final 12 seconds to end the Aggies’ season in a 72-67 thriller.
Instead of talking about a season’s signature win, Finkbeiner and his squad were left talking about Utah State’s years to come after a rocky first campaign in the Mountain West.
“Coming here we felt like we could win it,” he said. “We really did. So it’s a letdown right now in that locker room. I thought the girls showed some good things right here.”
Senior guard Jen Schlott had a team-high 20 points, 11 assists and six rebounds to lead Utah State to the brink of the tournament’s biggest surprise.
She also took over the top spot on Utah State’s career scoring list with a 3-pointer midway through the first half.
Stephanie Bairstow had a career-high 19 points, and Makenlee Williams added 14 points and eight boards.
In the end, they couldn’t overcome Colorado State’s post players and their shots at the charity stripe. Sam Marton scored the last three of her 15 points on a layup and an ensuing free throw to tie the game. Elin Gustavsson had the go-ahead bucket and free throw with 12 seconds left.
Williams missed a 3-pointer with six seconds left, the last time the Aggies had a chance to tie. Ellen Nystrom put the game out of reach with two more free throws.
The locker room was downcast, the team recovering from its heart being wrenched from its chest. But they did take some solace in pushing the No. 1 seed to the edge, even if it was too late to save their season.
“It shows we can compete with anyone in the league,” Schlott said. “We had a rough start [to the conference season], but honestly this team is a good team, and in the next couple years, they’ll compete.”
The Aggies got out to a solid start behind the red-hot Schlott. The Mountain West Player of the Year had 17 first-half points to lead the Aggies to a 33-31 halftime lead.
The team hung on the lead in the second half, thanks to a plus-12 margin on the boards and Bairstow pouring in 17 points after the break.
Although the team loses Schlott, the program’s all-time leader in scoring and assists, they return most of their talent. If there was a positive to take away from the defeat, it was what might arise from the ashes.
“With Jen leaving, there’s going to be some big shoes to fill,” a red-eyed Williams said. “But I think with this experience and what we’ve been through, we’ll keep getting better and better.”
Colorado State 72, Utah State 67
R Jen Schlott sets all-time Utah State scoring record with 1,566 points.
• Aggies fall behind in final 12 seconds, giving up an 8-0 run during the Mountain West tournament quarterfinals.
• Stephanie Bairstow has a career-high 19 points.