Utah State holds off San Francisco rally to win 82-64 at Chase Center – Cache Valley Daily

Dan Akin. Photo by Lorene Hale

SAN FRANCISCO – Facing its highest rated opponent in what was essentially a road game, playing without its starting point guard, making a mere five 3-pointers and its leading scorer not playing as dominant as usual was…absolutely no problem for Utah State. The Aggies found other ways to not only win, but dominate at times on their way to an 82-64 win over San Francisco in the Chase Center on Sunday evening.

The closest Utah State came to being in trouble after the opening exchange of blows at the start of the game was a pair of San Francisco runs, one in the first half and another in the second. The Aggies went up 22-10 mid-way through the first half, and while the Dons cut that lead to 28-23 USU responded with a 14-1 run for a 42-28 advantage. And in the second half a 64-42 Utah State lead was impressively cut down to 66-59, but yet again the Aggies responded by grinding the lead back up to 18 by the end of the game.

Even with those runs by San Francisco, the Aggies were overall successful in their one goal for Sunday’s game: play better defense. In the last three games Utah State opponents averaged 85.0 points, crossing the 80-point threshold in each outing. Halting that trend was key.

“It was really the only focus of the game,” senior guard Sean Bairstow said. “We know our offense is going to come and when we get out there we’ll sort all that stuff out. But on the defensive end it’s been trending in a negative way and we just wanted to get back to that and let that create our offense.”

“The key for us was intensity on defense in this particular game,” head coach Ryan Odom said. “We had lost it a little bit the last three games. We challenged our guys in film and preparation in practice to really ramp it up defensively and play harder, quite honestly.”

With its defense carrying its weight for the first time in several games, the offense didn’t have to completely rely on draining every 3-pointer it took. Good thing, too, since Utah State went just 5-for-19 from deep. The fact that the Aggies were able to score 80-plus points for the sixth straight game, but this time with only five made 3-pointers, was rather impressive. Even more so when put in context. The five threes made on Sunday are the lowest total of the season for the Aggies and just the 10th time under head coach Ryan Odom that the team has made that few triples. Utah State was previously 2-7 under Odom in such games (and both were against below-.500 teams).

“If you want to be a great team,” Odom said, “you have to be well-balanced. If you’re just a one-dimensional 3-point shooting team you’re not going to make it very far. You can’t live and die by the three.”

The main reason the Aggies weren’t making threes was because of the way San Francisco set up its defense, “locking out” to try and prevent Utah State from getting open looks from deep.

“The way we’ve been shooting the ball, you could tell they didn’t want us shooting threes,” Bairstow said. “They were locking out a lot so it just opened a lot of driving lanes. There wasn’t much help defense coming except the five under the hoop and then it was easy to make the dump-off pass to the big.”

“Tonight the game called for us to drive to the basket and make plays near the rim and our guys responded and did a great job,” Odom said.

The Dons’ defense accomplished its primary goal of keeping the Aggies off the 3-point line, but it opened up space for others to operate, guys like Dan Akin, Sean Bairstow and Max Shulga. Akin led all scorers with 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Shulga added 16 points while Bairstow had 12 in just 20 minutes of play. Bairstow’s performance stood out because of his recent struggles. After scoring 19 points in the season opener, Bairstow averaged just 5.2 points with a 37.9 field goal percentage.

It’s worth noting that Bairstow had a bit of a boost from some familiar faces. About 50 people with the Churchie High School basketball team – Bairstow’s alma mater – had made the trek all the way from Brisbane, Australia and were at the game. They weren’t there exclusively for Bairstow, the trip was made as part of a one-every-two-year American tour for the basketball team. That they were in San Francisco at the same time as Bairstow was a work of pure serendipity.

“It was really good,” Bairstow said. “Felt like a home game in a way.”

Aside from attacking the hoop, a huge aspect to Utah State’s success on offense came from simply not turning the ball over. The Aggies averaged 15.7 giveaways over their last three games but had half that number with just eight. It was especially impressive given the team they were facing. San Francisco is very capable of forcing turnovers, especially Khalil Shabazz who came in ranked 16th in total steals. Added on top of that was the fact USU was missing its starting point guard, Rylan Jones. The senior guard didn’t play due to a concussion he suffered in USU’s previous outing against Utah Tech.

Utah State’s gameplan to limit turnovers wasn’t simply to hope that Steven Ashworth would just have an elite ball-handling game (though he pretty much did, having zero turnovers on the night). Odom used all the ball-handlers available to him, including Shulga, to keep the ball safe.

“Steven did a great job of not turning it over against high-level pressure,” Odom said, “but we tried to limit Steven with the ball as much as we could because of (the high-level pressure). Thankfully, we’ve got other guys that can dribble and attack the rim. I thought Max was phenomenal in that regard and certainly got us off to a great start.”

The 7-0 start for USU is tied with the 2019-20 Aggies for the best start to a season since 1961-62 (8-0). The opportunity to match the 1961 team will have to wait until Saturday when Utah State will travel to Las Vegas for another neutral site game, this one against Loyola Marymount. The Lions are 7-3 to start the year including a 1-1 record against Mountain West teams (87-71 loss to Colorado State and 64-52 win vs Nevada).

Source link

Share This Article



Related Articles