Utah State's Stew Morrill weighs in on Aggies' defense, 'I Believe' debate
More time for practice means more time for the Utah State basketball team to hear the same message from their coach.
Stew Morrill's best teams always played good defense. And he'll keep reminding them over and over as the Aggies roll into fall and prepare for their Nov. 8 season-opener against USC.
"It's like a broken record with me: We havw to play well defensively to be able to win games," Morrill said. "We're continually getting better, but it's something we're working on every day. We're stepping up in leagues, and we're going to have to stop a better caliber of athlete."
Defense is the focus out of fall practice so far, with the Aggies tightening up their schemes. With seven newcomers on the roster, the extra time should help the young players learn how Utah State's defense works.
The Aggies finished second in the WAC in scoring defense in conference games (62.2 ppg), but the biggest advantage appeared on the glass: Utah State was third in rebounding margin last season, gaining 9.1-board advantage on average against its opponents. Even after Utah State lost Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed to injury, defense helped the Aggies stay afloat in conference play.
Morrill won't let his team forget that, and is especially looking for better defense in the front court from center Jarred Shaw. The senior, who was the Aggies' leading rebounder last year, is improving his effort on that end, Morrill said.
"Jarred's been solid every day, and he's made some real good strides from last year," Morrill said. "It's sometimes overlooked that he averaged almost a double-double for us last year, and we expect him to be very productive in the Mountain West."
Against a better class of competition, home court advantage will be important. A recent ESPN story brought up the impending showdown between San Diego State and Utah State fans over their mutual chant, "I Believe."
Who owns it? The Aggies or the Aztecs?
"I don't know. I'm not sure if it matters very much who did it first," Morrill said. "The first time I heard it was when our students came up with it a couple years ago, and I always thought they were way ahead of everybody."
It brought up another point: Utah State is looking for the Spectrum to be more packed this year after a bit of a dip in their final WAC season.
The Aggies dominated attendance figures in the Big West and the WAC, Morrill said, but a new conference with rabid fanbases will put a fresh take on the challenge of getting fans out to the game.
"I'm just hoping our crowd can be what has been," Morrill said. "We'll need that craziness and rowdiness in the Spectrum for us to have a chance to compete in the Moundain West. Of that I'm certain."
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon