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Utah State's Kyle Davis, left, and Colorado State's Jon Octeus fight for the ball in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Fort Collins, Colo. (AP Photo/The Coloradoan, Erin Hull)
Utah State basketball: Aggies continue league turnaround

Utah State beat CSU late Tuesday for its third straight win.

First Published Feb 12 2014 04:37 pm • Last Updated Feb 12 2014 09:58 pm

Fort Collins, Colo. • By the second half of Tuesday night’s game, Kyle Davis and Preston Medlin were putting on a pick-and-roll clinic.

The Utah State duo hooked up several times, with Medlin either feeding the big man down low for a close shot or free throws, and Medlin getting his chances to knock down jumpers. Although Medlin acknowledged that the connection has become a key part of the Aggies’ offense, he emphasized that it takes a lot of pieces to make a play work.

At a glance

Utah State gaining steam

» Since starting 2-7 in conference, Aggies have won three straight.

» The Aggies have held opponents to under 41 percent shooting collectively during the streak.

» Utah State remains one of the top 3-point shooting and assisting teams in the nation.

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" [Davis] sets a good screen, and they’re helping on me," he said. "It’s not the only role: Everybody else is doing something. Jarred [Shaw]’s in there ducking, taking away his man as well. I just try to make the right play."

The tightening chemistry and execution of Utah State in the last three games has been apparent. Pick-and-rolls have helped open up the offense down low. The Aggies’ guards have been getting more open shots on off-ball movement. Rebounding advantages are on the rise again.

Most importantly, the results have vindicated the team that had slumped midseason. With three straight wins, Utah State is still outside the top of the Mountain West, but is starting to prove it has a place in the league. And that place is not the bottom.

The five-game losing streak wore on the Aggies, and coach Stew Morrill looked like he was in for one of his toughest seasons ever in Logan. But the turnaround came after Wyoming, one of the team’s worst losses to date, when the Aggies decided to embrace the second half of league play as a fresh start.

It might’ve been slightly wishful thinking — Utah State remains in the lower half of the standings thanks to that 2-7 start — but they’ve played more aggressively and with more consistency in the second half.

"We got a little bit down when we were 2-7, but we’ve bounced back with some energy," Morrill said. "Just fun to see kids play hard and execute and stay positive and all of that."

The Aggies have kept Morrill smiling the past week and a half with a return to the inside-out emphasis on offense, which has led to more trips to the free-throw line and allowed for more kick-out passes to open shooters. Utah State is still one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, and still one of the best programs at assisting on field goals.

Consistency is even improving on an individual level: Medlin, Davis and Spencer Butterfield have each scored in double digits in each of the three wins. Shaw, sometimes chided for his inconsistencies, has double-digit rebounds in each game as well.

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Defense has also been better, as statistics reflect. Only twice in conference play has an opponent shot better than 47 percent. The Aggies rebound defensively at a 72.7 percent rate according to KenPom.com, which makes them the No. 22 defensive rebounding team in the country.

The challenge will be to keep the momentum going. Starting this weekend against UNLV, one of the teams that embarrassed Utah State in the first go-round, the Aggies have pressure to keep up the rally they’ve started.


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