Logan • The game does burn in the pits of their stomachs. It was an ugly night for Utah State.
The 62-42 defeat to UNLV saw the Aggies’ starters pulled in favor of freshmen, but nothing Utah State did truly made much difference. They couldn’t shoot, couldn’t rebound and certainly couldn’t close the gap as the Rebels ran all over them.
UNLV at Utah State
O At the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum
Tipoff » 2 p.m.
TV » CBS Sports Network
Radio » 1280 AM
Records » USU 15-9 (5-7 MWC); UNLV 16-8 (7-4)
Series history » UNLV leads 28-3
Last meeting » UNLV 62, USU 42 (Jan. 22)
About the Aggies » Among the NCAA’s active career leaders, Preston Medlin is tied for No. 47 in 3-pointers made (201) and No. 27 in 3-point percentage (42.5 percent). … Medlin and Marcel Davis are ranked in the top 25 nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio. Davis is No. 18 (3.00); Medlin is No. 22 (2.97). … Their 3-point percentage (41.8) is No. 8 nationally.
About the Rebels » Khem Birch has been one of the best shot blockers in the nation; he’s No. 4 in the country with 3.58 blocks per game. … Ranked No. 4 nationally in allowing opponents to shoot just 27.6 percent from beyond the arc. … Forward Roscoe Smith leads the Mountain West with 14 double-doubles, which is third-most in the country.
A desire for revenge would be easy to understand. But that isn’t quite what’s on the Aggies’ minds as they prepare for an afternoon tangle with UNLV at home on Saturday.
"I feel like we could’ve played better the last time," sophomore Danny Berger said. "That’s the good thing about basketball: You can get another game with them and try harder to beat them. I don’t know about ‘revenge,’ but it’s kind of nice to get a chance to redeem yourself."
From a five-game losing streak now into three straight wins, this half of the season has been all about redemption for Utah State.
The Aggies are still in the wrong half of the Mountain West standings, and a shaky start didn’t help perception that the team might be a step too slow, or a bit too short or too skinny to be cut out for the league.
Internally, the program feels differently. After starting 2-7, Utah State needed a come-to-the-light moment where they would start turning things around. A disappointing loss to Wyoming helped offer some harsh truth: If the Aggies didn’t change their ways, there would be many more defeats in the future.
The problem at its root, Berger said, was selfish play.
"If you’re playing for yourself and not for the team, it’s kind of cancerous," he said. "Once we realized that we gotta play as a team and not care about individual stats, we can win. That’s what we did. We bought in."
Coach Stew Morrill has pointed to positive practices as a source of the team’s renewed fight, but the coaching staff has also placed even more emphasis on precision and effort. Missed screens and sloppy executions lead to points off the board in practice, or the team is told to run it again.
Again and again, until it’s right.
The evidence of progress is in the rising assists, the upward curving shooting percentages, the help defense that has been more effective and blanketing. It’s also in the win column, where the Aggies are becoming one of the hotter teams in the league.
Saturday will be an opportunity to avenge an early defeat against the Rebels, sure. But Utah State doesn’t see itself as that same team that lost that game.
Against one of the most athletic teams in the conference, the Aggies have a chance to keep proving they’ve changed for the better. Inside the program, they see it already. They hope to show those outside the program that it’s true.
"We really had two choices after the first half of league: We could either cash it in and not win any more games, or we could regroup and figure out what we need to do," Morrill said. "That’s been the approach these kids have taken, and I give them all the credit."
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