The Utah State Aggies took over sole possession of first place in the Western Athletic Conference, with a hard-fought victory over rival Nevada on Saturday night. The Aggies won by a score of 76-65 in front of a sell-out crowd to complete their first in-season sweep of Nevada since joining the WAC. After a competitive first half that saw numerous lead changes, the Aggies went to the intermission with a 39-35 advantage. After making some adjustments, the men in blue slowly started to put distance between themselves and the Wolfpack, as USU never trailed in the second half. This was due in part to defensive adjustments made by the Aggies. “In the first half, they were on fire. We could not get them stopped,” head coach Stew Morrill said. “In the second half, I thought we better defensively.” “I thought that they wore down a little bit. They’ve got guys playing 40 minutes… We were switching up our defenses and challenging shots a little better. They wore down a little bit, and we played a little bit better defense.” The Aggies had a very fundamentally sound game. They won by using the three keys that Coach Morrill preaches: rebounding, limiting turnovers, and playing defense. USU won the rebounding battle, with 43 total boards, 21 of which were of the offensive variety. They did an outstanding job of taking care of the ball, amassing 18 assists, while only turning the ball over four times. Defensively, Utah State was able to force seven turnovers, while holding the Wolfpack to 35% shooting in the second half. “We rebounded the heck out of the basketball. That was a huge key for us,” Morrill said. “… I thought the rebounding was huge, and our improvement on defense in the second half were the reasons we got a win. If you’ve got 18 assists to four turnovers, you’ve got a chance to win a lot of games.” Utah State had numerous offensive contributors, with four players reaching double figures. Guards Pooh Williams and Jared Quayle had 16 and 13 points, respectively, while dishing out nine assists between the two of them. Brady Jardine and Tai Wesley proved to be difference makers, scoring most of their points from putbacks off the offensive board. Jardine had 13 points and eight rebounds, and Wesley had 19 points and nine boards. Jardine and Wesley were also given the difficult task of defending Luke Babbitt, who came into the game averaging over 20 points and nine rebounds. Babbitt ended up with a game-high 20 points on 8-16 shooting, with 11 of his points coming in the first 20 minutes. The duo did a good job of contesting his shots, and Jardine recorded a monstrous block on Babbitt with 15 minutes left in the game that brought the Spectrum crowd to it’s feet. “Tai had a bunch of huge rebounds in the second half,” said Jardine. “… It was a team effort. Tai couldn’t guard him (Babbitt) by himself, I couldn’t guard him by myself. When we were getting beat, our players were stepping up, and that is how you beat a player like that.” “Brady was busting his butt,” Wesley said. “It felt like if we missed a shot, then either Brady would have it or I would have it. That is kind of how it went. It seemed like we were just out there working tonight.” USU will now have their last tough WAC road trip next week when they will play at Boise State on Wednesday and at San Jose State on Friday. The Aggies beat both teams by a combined margin of 41 points at the Spectrum.
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