Utah State basketball: Aggies prepare for year of transition
Logan •Â Jen Schlott said she learned a thing or two from Devyn Christensen, the Aggies' all-time leading scorer.
But this team will have to move out of the shadow of Christensen and Jenna Johnson, two of the program's brightest stars who graduated in the spring. The Utah State women's basketball team is making this season one of growth, change and adaptation.
And the players can't wait to see where it leads them.
"It's a work in progress," Schlott said. "There's always room to improve. We learned from last season."
The Aggies finished second in the Western Athletic Conference last season, but they face an uphill climb in their first year in the Mountain West. Utah State was voted to finish sixth in the preseason poll, a spot coach Jerry Finkbeiner called "fair."
Finkbeiner, who enters his second season, aims to have the program closer to his vision: a high-scoring, high-tempo offensive juggernaut that piles on points before opponents can blink. The Aggies are not yet there, he said, but they'll take strides in that direction.
"We're kind of evolving as a group," he said. "When I look around the league, I have respect for the athleticism and size in the Mountain West. We won't match up in that way, but I think we're going to bring a dynamic that's a little atypical in a conference that tends to be predictable."
Utah State's attack will start with Schlott, a slippery senior point guard who can stuff a stat sheet. An all-WAC performer last season, she scored 29 points while notching nine assists, seven rebounds and six steals in Tuesday's exhibition win over Northwest Nazarine.
Other returners should power the team as well: Makenlee Williams, an athletic and dynamic guard, and Franny Vaaulu, a physical post player, will be major factors on the team. But seven newly available players will make this team look a lot different and add to the growing pains.
Sure there will be adjustments and even struggles as Utah State takes on Utah, BYU and Nebraska in its non-conference schedule, Finkbeiner said. But if his group can stay healthy, the Aggies may surprise by the end.
"We have a chance to carve out a place for ourselves and put ourselves in some upset situations," he said. "We're not as quick or as big, but offensively we think we can compete in this league."
A closer look
Best case • The Aggies accelerate their game and lead the Mountain West in scoring. Utah State doesn't finish at the top of the conference but exceeds expectations and makes a run in the conference tournament.
Worst case •Â Either injuries or chemistry causes the group to stutter in the early going, and it never finds its rhythm. Year two of the Finkbeiner era is one of struggle in a losing season in the Mountain West.
Watch out for • Defense. Utah State started out last season with fun-and-gun tempo but had to slow itself midyear because it couldn't stop anyone. If the Aggies can't stop opponents earlier this season, the margin for error is slimmer against tougher conference opponents.
Nov. 9 • Black Hills State, 7 p.m.
Nov. 13 • Loyola Marymount, 7 p.m.
Nov. 19 • Utah, 7 p.m.
Nov. 22 • Idaho State, 7 p.m.
Nov. 29 • Hampton University, 6 p.m. (Chatsworth Thanksgiving Classic, Northridge, Calif.)
Nov. 30 • TBA (Chatsworth Thanksgiving Classic, Northridge, Calif.)
Dec. 5 • at South Dakota, 6 p.m.
Dec. 8 • at Nebraska, 1 p.m.
Dec. 19 • at UC Santa Barbara, 8 p.m.
Dec. 21 • at BYU, 2 p.m.
Dec. 28 • College of Idaho, 2 p.m.
Jan. 1 • Air Force, 7 p.m.
Jan. 4 • at San Jose State, 3 p.m.
Jan. 11 • Nevada, 7 p.m.
Jan. 15 • at Colorado State, 7 p.m.
Jan. 18 • Boise State, 7 p.m.
Jan. 22 • UNLV, 7 p.m.
Jan. 25 • at San Diego State, 3 p.m.
Jan. 29 • at New Mexico, 7 p.m.
Feb. 1 • Wyoming, 7 p.m.
Feb. 5 • at Nevada, 7 :30 p.m.
Feb. 8 • at Boise State, 2 p.m.
Feb. 12 • Colorado State, 7 p.m.
Feb. 15 • at UNLV, 5 p.m.
Feb. 19 • San Diego State, 7 p.m.
Feb. 22 • at Fresno State, 3 p.m.
Feb. 26 • New Mexico, 7 p.m.
March 1 • San Jose State 7 p.m.
March 4 • at Wyoming, 7 p.m.
March 10-15 • Mountain West tournament, Las Vegas