The Utah State Aggies looked like an NCAA tournament team Sunday night in Logan.
The Aggies took on the Nevada Wolf Pack for the second time in three days and unlike the first matchup, which USU won by only three points, Utah State was completely dominant from almost start to finish.
Utah State defeated Nevada 87-66, and improved to 16-7 overall and 13-4 in the Mountain West Conference.
“That was a great win for the Aggies tonight,” USU coach Craig Smith said. “I thought we played very well for 36 minutes or so. Great team effort. We did a lot of good things out there against a very good opponent. I’ve said it many times, Nevada is a very good team. They put a lot of pressure on you, they have size, they have great guard play. It’s great to win back-to-back against those guys.
“When you play four games in 31 days, It’s hard to maintain continuity and rhythm. It also felt like we were showing signs we were going to play really well, where it was really starting to click. I thought we saw that tonight, where things were clicking on all cylinders. You bring in (Rollie) Worster, that really helps. Then you see (Max) Shulga getting better game-by-game as he gets more experience. Great team win, great balance. Great team effort and an excellent win, and it felt good to be at home.”
Here are three keys to the Aggies’ latest win over the Wolf Pack:
Stifling defense, particularly in the first half
Utah State had a rough first half on the offensive end, like really rough. The Aggies made only 13 of 34 shots — that’s 39.4% — and a measly 2 of 15 from behind the arc. Only Neemias Queta scored in double figures (12 points) as nothing really went well on one side of the court.
It was a completely different story on the defensive end, however. The Aggies’ defense was about as stout as could be hoped for in the opening half. Nevada only made 8 of 22 shots (yes, USU took 12 more shots in the first half than Nevada) and turned the ball over 13 times. Nine those turnovers were Utah State steals with Max Shulga and Justin Bean leading the way with four and three steals, respectively.
“I thought we defended really well,” said Smith. “Our screen-and-roll defense was excellent and that’s a big thing.”
The Aggies’ defense was less effective in the second half — the Wolf Pack scored 43 second half points — but it didn’t matter as Utah State’s offense heated up considerably.
Neemias Queta, as always
Queta was key to everything Utah State did Sunday night, and really has been instrumental to the Aggies’ success all year long.
He finished with a game-high 26 points and 13 rebounds, for yet another double-double, while chipping in five assists. And yet, even those numbers fail to convey his actual impact. Queta was everywhere, seemingly all the time, on both offense and defense. Nevada simply had no answer for him all night long.
Don’t forget Justin Bean and Marco Anthony
Queta wasn’t the only individual standout for Utah State. Justin Bean and Marco Anthony both had impressive outings. Bean finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds, a double-double of his own, while Anthony chipped in 11 points that underscored his impact.
The duo were particularly important early in the second half. Nevada game out of the break determined to make up some ground and did, pulling with 11 points just three minutes after play resumed.
Things appeared to be about to get out of hand for USU, that is until Anthony and Bean exerted their will and helped the Aggies withstand the Nevada charge.