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(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State Aggies head coach Stew Morrill during a timeout. Brigham Young University Cougars defeated Utah State University Aggies 70-68 in Provo, February 19, 2013.
Utah State basketball: Aggies’ identity coming into focus
Men’s basketball » Victory over Cowboys was a confidence-builder for USU
First Published Mar 06 2014 12:56 pm • Last Updated Mar 06 2014 10:16 pm

Logan • There were two schools of thought on Utah State’s momentum-gaining victory on Wednesday night.

For Spencer Butterfield, a 65-54 win over Wyoming, a team that previously beat the Aggies by 17, meant some validation. It meant Utah State has made important strides toward the end of the year.

At a glance

USU at the Mountain West Tournament

The Aggies are locked into the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game in the conference tournament, with the opponent still to be determined, either Colorado State or Fresno State.

When »  Wednesday, 1 p.m. MDT

Where » Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas

Watch » MW Network online

Listen » 1280 AM

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"It’s huge," he said. "We’ve got a lot of confidence as a team right now. We’re playing really well together. I think it’s going to carry over into the Mountain West tournament."

Then there’s Stew Morrill, who wasn’t ready to call the game anything but a victory. Perhaps remembering some of the struggles in conference play this season, the Aggies’ coach was a little more cautious after his team’s second straight win.

"We’ll try and win our first conference tournament game," he said. "We’ll just try to play hard and win the game we’re playing."

Maybe both are right.

Utah State (17-13, 7-11) gets a week-long break before the opening round of the Mountain West tournament, the first time they’ve had a bye since the first week of January. During that breather, they’ll have a chance to prepare for that final push — the one that really matters — and Aggies fans will have chances to speculate what this team truly is.

Are they the group that went 2-7 in the first half of league play? The one that went 5-4 in the second half? The team that got blown out in games on the road? The one that pushed two nationally-ranked teams close to the brink?

Utah State’s identity has been a fickle thing this season, and in many games the Aggies have surprised — in good ways and bad. Morrill has a right to be cautious.

But winning its final two games of the regular season is a sign of progress for a team that appeared on the ropes several times in Mountain West play.

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story continues below

The win over the Cowboys could be the season in a nutshell: The Aggies started out hard and fast, and Preston Medlin, Jarred Shaw and Spencer Butterfield each scored in the opening minutes. That blazing start gave way to sluggish shooting, as Utah State ceded a halftime lead. Trailing at intermission has not been a good omen: the Aggies were 1-10 when trailing at the half.

But not on Senior Night. The Aggies rallied behind Shaw and Kyle Davis, who owned the paint. While the Aggies were well below their usual 3-point clip, Medlin, Butterfield and TeNale Roland each made critical 3-pointers to either stop a Wyoming run or start one for the Aggies. Perhaps most importantly, two thirds of the Cowboys shots were clunkers against Utah State’s defense.

"We were kind of rushed, impatient, whatever you want to say, but we settled for some mediocre shots," Morrill said. "I thought we were better all around in the second half. Better offensively, better defensively."

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