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Utah State basketball: Help defense improving for Aggies
First Published Jan 16 2014 10:54 pm • Last Updated Jan 17 2014 10:03 am

Logan • The Aggies’ shooting touch hasn’t been so hot, and Stew Morrill knows it.

But Utah State’s coach still had a reason to feel upbeat after Thursday’s practice, and it has everything to do with what’s happening — what’s finally happening — at the other end of the floor.

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"We’ll get ourselves going offensively, which would be great because we’ve been playing enough defense to put ourselves in games," he said. "Last night, I thought that was huge. We kept ourselves in the game until we finally made some shots."

After more than half a season stressing his team’s need to improve defensively, Morrill is finally seeing some evidence that his group is improving in that area. Colorado State shot only 36.2 percent from the floor, the lowest percentage since Utah State beat down Troy last month.

That progress, Morrill said, has come from the Aggies’ improved effort on help defense. Although Utah State is guarding the ball better than it started the season, the key has been support on screens and penetration — keeping at least one defender between the opponent and the hoop. Although the Rams did get 13 offensive rebounds, their first shots were typically very difficult.

The Aggies will have to keep vigilance for help defense against Boise State, which has a faster tempo and harder penetrating attack.

"We did a better job on the ball, and we did a really good job of helping one another, which this team has to do," Morrill said. "We’re not able to just, ‘OK, you guard your man and don’t let him penetrate.’ They’re gonna get by us some. I think most teams are going to get by us some. We gotta keep doing a good job of helping each other."

Moore working on offensive game

Utah State’s most integrated freshman forward often seems a bounce or two from highlight-reel plays.

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At least twice on drives to the rim against Colorado State, Jalen Moore was foiled: once by a block, once by an attempt to get around a blocker. He wrapped up with three points on 1-for-6 shooting.

The challenge of matching up with players who can actually guard him is becoming clearer, Moore said after Thursday’s practice, and he’s working on his shot creativity.

"I’m learning what I need to do: get in there and shot fake, take my time in there and not make so many quick moves," he said. "Try to get it up on the backboard. So I’m trying to get my game up a little bit."

Terrible turnovers

Among the biggest issues coming out of reviewing the game Wednesday night: Too many giveaways.

The Aggies had 14 turnovers against Colorado State, another double-digit night in a category where Utah State wouldn’t like to see double digits. Four Aggies had multiple turnovers.

In conference play, the Aggies are averaging 11.3 turnovers per game, slightly more than their opponents. Utah State turns the ball over 18.1 percent of the time — not the worst percentage, but certainly not good.

"We had a lot of turnovers in the first half of the game, when we couldn’t score," Moore said. "If we keep our turnovers to single digits, we should be fine most nights."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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