Make no mistake about it, Utah State felt the pain of its non-conference loss Saturday at Saint Mary’s as much as it did any loss this season — even the setback in Boise when the Aggies were ranked as high as 17.
The loss to the Gaels wasn’t a big one in some ways — it won’t hurt the Aggies’ chances to win the Western Athletic Conference regular season title and it won’t impact their chances to be the top seed in the conference tournament. Those things will happen as soon as they win their next game — most likely on Thursday at home against Hawaii.
But the loss is a bad one in other regards. National pundits and bracket ‘experts’ had USU seeded anywhere from 7-13 with favorable matchups in first round games. Though the Aggies have only three losses — and very well may wrap up the season that way — it will be hard to expect a lot of love out of the selection committee.
Utah State had a chance to really prove something to the doubters and nay-sayers. Instead of doing that, they played soft and as if they were afraid to be aggressive — as if doing so would put them at risk.
Utah State was very much in the game at Saint Mary’s — moreso than the final 11-point margin of defeat might indicate. Yet, other than a six-minute span where the Aggies trimmed a 14-point hole down to just three points with two minutes to play, USU never really seemed interested in competing at a tough level.
Instead, as senior Gary Wilkinson said, the Aggies played as if they were trying to not lose rather than trying to win.
That’s a pretty bad game plan in any situation and Saturday it turned out to hurt the Aggies pretty badly.
Utah State is in a funk. The Aggies have been shooting poorly, they’ve often had ugly stretches of ballhandling with boatloads of turnovers and just seem as if they expect the wins to come easily. Instead, they have seen that big target in the middle of their back hit with deadly acuracy by opponents.
There are three regular season games left — two at home and one at Nevada. The two home games should, even if USU plays not quite up to normal, be wins. The road trip to Nevada is Utah State’s last chance to remind everyone (including themselves) of why they won 19 games in a row this season.
Even if Utah State wins all three of those games, they may need to win three more in Reno during the WAC tournament. Otherwise, that 19-game win streak, the WAC regular season title and those now-forgotten rankings will be for nothing.