Matt Lopez has strong debut for Aggies hoops
Orem • It's not often that a player can surprise even his coaches in his first game.
But when Matt Lopez stepped back, spun and dunked over a helpless Ben Aird in the second half, jaws were even dropping on the Utah State bench. No one knew he was capable.
"It's a little surprising to me when the kid hasn't played for over a year, how comfortable he was out there," coach Stew Morrill said. "I mean the spin dunk move: What was that? That was a special move."
The sophomore center came off the bench, but played effectively in only 13 minutes on the floor. He finished with eight points on 4-for-5 shooting, got a pair of rebounds and a slick assist to Ben Clifford in the first half.
But the 6-foot-11 Lopez, though he plays the same position as starter Jarred Shaw, brought a different look: More physical, more aggressive in some ways. If Shaw was a sleek, smooth shooter, Lopez was a brute who wasn't afraid to pound inside.
In a Shaw-less world, Lopez showed he had potential as a starter. But he might be limited to a bench role - and that's OK with him.
"I always like to think i'm a hustle player, especially coming off the bench," Lopez said. "You know I love my role, and whoever is gonna play the most is probably gonna deserve it."
That brings to question what happens to Jordan Stone. The sophomore didn't see time on Saturday. If Lopez keeps playing at a high level, and neither him nor Shaw get in foul trouble, it might be slim pickings for Stone.
Davis has strong follow-up to breakthrough
The first half didn't have many highlights for Marcel Davis. It almost seemed like the freshman was falling back to Earth.
Then the Wolverines made the mistake of pulling a man off him to double inside. And he came to life to the tune of 17 points. When his 3-ball wasn't falling, he started going to the hoop.
"It's almost like you can see him getting better every day and every game," Morrill said. "And a big part of it is he believes he can play, and he's aggressive out there."
Although Davis had three turnovers and only one assist, it was the second straight game when he led the team in scoring. He's now put in 38 in the last two games, and his driving ability is a clear boost when other team members aren't getting to the line much.
Bench doing big things for Aggies
After a slow start for the bench this year, Utah State's reserves are doing a bigger share.
Part of that has to do with the thin roster: The Aggies off the bench have to do more. But their efforts particularly shined on Saturday, when the bench outscored UVU's reserves 17-0. Lopez led with 8, and TeNale Roland had some strong first-half plays and finished with five points and three assists.
Utah State's bench has outscored opposing reserves by 82-37 in only the past three games.
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon