Injury to starting Utah State point guard reaches further than 79-70 loss to Boise State

Rollie Worster missed Wednesday’s loss to the Broncos with a lower leg injury, and there’s no timetable for his return.

Boise State guard Marcus Shaver, Jr. and teammate Abu Kigab pressure Utah State guard Marco Anthony during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 at ExtraMile Arena in Boise, Idaho. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman via AP)

Like any basketball team with high aspirations, the Utah State Aggies aren’t ones for excuses.

Bad shooting night? No excuses, play better defense. Foul trouble? No excuses, play smarter. An injured player? No excuses, next man up.

While the Aggies suffered from all the aforementioned issues in Wednesday’s 79-70 loss to the Boise State Broncos, they still had a chance to win down the stretch. Both junior center Neemias Queta and coach Craig Smith pointed to lapses on the defense end as the main culprits.

But a potentially bigger issue lied in the fact that Utah State was missing its starting point guard, Rollie Worster, who sat out the first of a two-game series with a lower leg injury that Smith said he’s been dealing with “for a little while now.” With Worster sidelined, Steven Ashworth got the start and sophomore guard Sean Bairstow played a few more minutes than normal.

Worster is an integral part of USU’s game. He had a near triple-double in a win over the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and he’s the team’s assist leader. If he’s out longer than just Wednesday’s game, the other Aggies will need to contribute more.

Utah State center Neemias Queta blocks a shot by Boise State forward Mladen Armus during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 at ExtraMile Arena in Boise, Idaho. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman via AP)

And that’s exactly what Smith thinks as well.

“Those guys are thrust in some roles that maybe they haven’t had to do a whole lot in their young career,” Smith said. “But we need Steven to play well. We need Sean Bairstow to play well. We need Alphonso Anderson to play well. Whomever’s number is called, you have to be ready to roll.”

Ashworth played 32 minutes and scored just three points on 1-of-5 shooting. He did, however, contribute six assists in his first start of his college career. Meanwhile, Bairstow added five points and three rebounds in 17 minutes.

It may seem strange to focus on the production of a true freshman in a role to which he’s not accustomed. But Ashworth tends to be the more offensively minded part of the point guard duo that fits so well inside Utah State’s offense. So him struggling that mightily in a transition from understudy to leading man is notable in this case.

Junior guard Brock Miller also had a tough night, scoring just two points and missing all five of hits 3-point attempts. The only Aggie to shine was junior center Neemias Queta, who put up a career-high 32 points and added 10 rebounds while shooting 8-fo-9 from the free throw line.

Queta said he felt like he had an advantage Wednesday and wanted to capitalize on it, which is why he was more aggressive offensively than he has been all season. Smith said the Aggies “felt like we needed him to score” and they are “going to need another performance like that on Friday.”

And the underlying reason for that could be Worster’s absence. As much as Utah State likes to say “next man up,” oftentimes one important player missing time throws off the rotation and puts others into unfamiliar situations, thus causing enough of a chain reaction that could drastically affect the outcome of a game.

Miller is a streaky shooter. Ashworth may have to play a ton of minutes for multiple games. Other role players like Bairstow, junior guard Marco Anthony and senior guard Alphonso Anderson will need to be consistent off the bench.

Queta said that on Wednesday, Worster’s absence wasn’t all that significant, but acknowledged his importance to the team. Still, he maintained that missing Worster doesn’t put pressure on the rest of the Aggies to pick up the slack.

“We’re just trying to score as a whole,” Queta said. “If I’m going, I’m going — we’re just going to try and find me. If somebody else is going we’re just going to try and find them. It just depends on the night.”

Losing to the Broncos meant the Aggies lost a Quadrant 1 game, the most important type of game in regards to NCAA Tournament qualification. But the Aggies get another crack at it Friday.

“We have a tremendous opportunity,” Smith said. “We’re still playing for a league championship. We’re still playing for a spot to get into the NCAA Tournament. I know our guys will be locked in and fired up to play in again here in about 47 hours.”

With only three more games scheduled in the regular season, the Aggies can ill afford to have Worster miss significant time. And from the sound of it, there’s no timetable for his return.

“It’s just one of those things right now that we have to see and approach it day by day and we’ll see what happens in a couple of days,” Smith said.