The Utah State men’s basketball team has one of the most dynamic offenses in the Mountain West Conference. Its system relies on inside-out play, constant cutting and screening, and passing up good shots for great shots.
Part of what makes USU’s offense hum is Neemias Queta, whose offseason improvement has translated to leading the Aggies in scoring and tallying the second-most assists on the team. But the key to Utah State’s success on that end might be found in the two true freshman in charge of running the offense.
Rollie Worster and Steven Ashworth are USU’s point guards playing meaningful minutes for a Division I program with a history of success in recent years. Worster’s the starter who learned his winning ways at Hellgate High School in Montana, where he played basketball and football. Ashworth is Worster’s backup who spent his formative basketball years at Lone Peak High and recently had a career game for the Aggies.
Having just one of them run the Aggies’ offense is like a musician playing just one note at a time — effective, but ultimately limited. But two notes together make a chord, opening up myriad possibilities — major, minor, diminished.
And what may be helping Utah State make beautiful basketball music on the court is Worster and Ashworth have different skill sets that not only complement each other, but also allows offensive versatility.
“[It’s] kind of a different team depending on who’s on the floor,” Aggies coach Craig Smith said.
Worster is more akin to a floor general. He gets the Aggies organized in set plays. He drives in the paint with designs on kicking the ball out to open shooters. He finds his shot more in the flow of the offense. He leads the team in assists as a result, He also put up a near triple-double against UNLV on Wednesday with 19 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
Ashworth, on the other hand, plays at a faster pace when he’s on the floor. He’s more daring when it comes to pulling up for a transition 3-pointer. He’s second on the team in makes from beyond the arc behind junior guard Brock Miller.
“I would say they’re just very different players that give us two different looks,” Queta said. “I feel like Steven is just way faster and it’s really hard to catch up to him. But whenever [Worster] slows it down, he can pretty much find the open guy a lot, too.”
Ashworth’s ability to change the pace of the offense is what teammates find most effective about his game.
“I don’t know where he finds it, but it feels like he just has an unlimited supply of energy,” sophomore center Trevin Dorius said of Ashworth. “He brings the pace of the game up to his level and he brings the rest of the team up with him.”
Smith also likes to play Worster and Ashworth together for short stretches. Worster moves to the shooting guard position in those instances. And while they’re together only in spot minutes, that’s when the dichotomy between them really shines.
“I think we complement each other just because [Ashworth is] a good shooter and he also likes to pass,” Worster said. “So when we both are on attack, we can find each other, whoever is open on the floor.”
The ability to play both point guards together is indicative of how versatile Utah State’s roster is. The starting lineup features Queta at center. Smith plays Dorius at center with his bench lineup. Sometimes he goes small and plays senior forward Alphonso Anderson at center. The latter lineup can feature Worster and Ashworth together, along with junior guard Marco Anthony, who at times has point guard responsibilities.
When Worster, Ashworth and Anthony share the court, that’s when the Aggies play some of their best basketball because of that lineup’s speed, Anderson said.
“When guys get the rebound, we kick it ahead and then they kick it ahead to the next guy,” Anderson said. “And when we can do that and play as a team, it puts so much pressure on defenses to get back. It allows us to get open driving lanes, open shots.”
Ashworth said the minutes he shares with Worster are some of his favorite moments playing basketball.
Worster and Ashworth’s different styles create mistakes by opposing defenses and makes it easier for the Aggies to score, Dorius said. And when the two play together, his message to other teams is to watch out.
“I feel bad for the other team, honestly,” Dorius said. “When they’re both on the floor, neither one of them has a ‘Give me the ball, I’m the point guard’ mentality. … They’re always making the right play. … It’s pretty unstoppable.”
Because Worster and Ashworth are freshmen, they still have plenty to learn and several years to develop. But they’ve already proven that they can play at a harmonious level.
“We trust them,” Smith said, “and that’s a hard thing to find for true freshmen.”