Las Vegas • Third time’s the charm? Tough to beat a team three straight times?
Stew Morrill doesn’t place much faith in those sayings. When Thursday rolls around, Utah State can’t rely on luck, odds or anything else to get his team over the Texas-sized hump of UT Arlington.
Utah State vs. UT Arlington
O WAC Tournament, at Orleans Arena (Las Vegas)
Tipoff » Thursday, 9:30 p.m. MT
Radio » 97.5 FM
Records » USU 21-9, 11-7; UTA 17-12, 11-7
Series history » UTA leads 2-1
Last meeting » UTA 61, USU 46 (March 2)
About the Aggies » Fifth-seeded Utah State has won 21 games in 14 straight seasons, one of five programs in the country with that active streak. … Stew Morrill is hoping to improve his conference tournament record, which is 25-8 while at Utah State. … The Aggies have missed 84 starts from players with injury this year, second in the nation behind IUPUI (125).
About the Mavericks » Despite finishing fourth in WAC play, No., 4 UT Arlington has just one all-conference player in Kevin Butler who made the third team. … The Mavericks are 11th nationally in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 38.2 percent shooting. … UTA’s Jordan Reeves is the school’s all-time top shot-blocker with 165 swats, and has 57 this year.
"If you beat them twice, you might be better than them, so the third time — why should it be so hard?" Morrill said during a Tuesday conference call. "There’s a lot of those sayings that are kind of fun to talk about, but I’m not sure how much validity they have. In this case I hope that one’s more right than I believe."
That’s the quandary the Aggies face: How to beat a Mavericks squad that has already gotten the better of them twice.
The first: a 74-68 footrace that UTA won with a ton of free throws. The second: a grinding game where the Mavericks fired away from long range for a 61-46 win while the Aggies laid an egg offensively.
It’s been frustrating to watch those games over again, Morrill said — especially the last one.
"That’s a game I was very upset afterward, and watching the film this week, rightfully so," he said. "We just didn’t compete as we needed to compete."
UT Arlington the only team in the WAC that leads the series history with the Aggies.
Utah State hasn’t dealt well with UTA’s pressure, giving up a minus-17 turnover differential in the two games. The Aggies haven’t shot well either, hitting field goals at a combined 33.7-percent clip.
In both games, the team was dealing with recent injuries, but both were also below-average games from the healthy players. Jarred Shaw’s line in two contests with UT Arlington are illustrative: a combined 6 for 24 for 20 points, 11 rebounds and four turnovers.
In the last meeting, Shaw was confronted by double- and triple-teams in the post, and the Aggies couldn’t shoot over the swarm in the paint.
"It’s pressure, it’s packed in, it’s physical defense," Shaw said. "You just have to find what works for you."
Utah State has a good track record for getting past the first round. Before falling against Louisiana Tech last year, the Aggies had won six straight first-round contests. The program has advanced to the finals five times in the WAC tournament.
But history is little comfort for the team, and won’t help them come Thursday. But the Aggies hope to at least learn from their past fumbles with the Mavericks, and finally tag them back.
Spencer Butterfield, who sat out the last meeting with an injury, is ready for another chance.
"We really got showed up when we played them at Arlington, and it was tough watching from the bench," he said. "I think we’ll be ready for them come Thursday. I think we’re definitely due to upset them."
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.