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Utah State basketball: Rebounds, unselfish play keys to USU success

LOGAN — Typically, shooting less than 40 percent against a team with a pair of projected NBA draft picks is a perfect way to lose a game.

But Saturday night against Nevada, Utah State had the perfect answer to a ho-hum shooting performance.

By crashing the boards and quickly finding open teammates, the Aggies manhandled the Wolf Pack and stayed on top of the Western Athletic Conference standings at 8-2.

Utah State missed what is probably an unacceptable 41 shots against Nevada. But the Aggies grabbed 21 offensive rebounds and often didn't force up a quick shot — instead finding an open teammate off the rebound for a better, less contested shot.

Four USU players had seven or more rebounds.

"We rebounded the heck out of the basketball," USU coach Stew Morrill said. "That was a huge key for us. Obviously Tai (Wesley), Brady (Jardine) and Jared (Quayle, I mean when your point guard gets nine rebounds and you think 'ho-hum' because he does it so often. But I thought the rebounding was huge."

So, too, was Utah State's passing.

Although the first shots weren't falling against Nevada, the second attempts were. And that often was a result of quick and crisp passes after the offensive rebounds. The Aggies had 18 assists and 20 second-chance points — meaning of the 21 offensive rebounds, 10 were quickly converted into baskets.

Nevada, which played a lot of one-on-one isolation basketball, had just seven assists.

Another key to the big win — the way USU capitalized on turnovers. Nevada had a not-too-shabby seven turnovers in the game.

Each, however was converted into points for Utah State as the Aggies had 14 points off turnovers.

RPI FORECAST: Stat geeks love to look at a team's strength of schedule, the future opponents and try guessing where a team might get seeded when, and if, it gets into the NCAA Tournament.

The RPI is one of the favorite numbers fans like to use and Utah State currently sits in the low 50s — not a favorable number in regards to seeding or in consideration for an at-large invitation.

But there are a couple of Web sites that load up the data, look at the wins, the losses, the opponents and all that other good stuff and spit out a projected RPI based on the likelihood of future wins and losses.

And in those, Utah State's looking pretty good.

Kem Pomeroy, who operates Kenpom.com paints a rosy picture for the Aggies.

Based on the data, kenpom.com shows Utah State finishing the season with a 24-7 overall record and an RPI of 24.

Another site, rpiforecast.com, sees Utah State finishing with a similar record, but an RPI of 30.

ANOTHER MILESTONE FOR MORRILL: When Morrill stepped onto the sidelines Saturday night against Nevada he was already Utah State's all-time winningest coach.

The game against the Wolf Pack etched his name in another page of the Aggie history book. The game was Morrill's 382nd as USU coach — matching the number coached by E. Lowell Romney, who coached from 1920-41.

Morril's mark comes in only 12 seasons, but as the current Aggie coach noted, he's coaching as many as 35 games a year while Romney typically coached less than 20 in a season.

SPECTRUM MAGIC: After seeing its 37-game home court win streak snapped by Saint Mary's early this season, Utah State has resumed its home-court domination. The Aggies have now won 10 in a row at home and 62 of their last 64 games in the Spectrum.

USU is virtually unbeatable when playing in Logan against WAC teams. The Aggies have not lost to a conference opponent in its last 21 games played in the Spectrum and has won 30 of 31.

e-mail: jeborn@desnews.com