by Daniel Olsen
The Aggies proved that their one home matchup was not a fluke as they earned a 91-76 USU victory over the New Mexico Lobos. While awaiting their rematch with a Boise State team they just beat on Senior Night last week, the Aggies can look at what went right against the Lobos and see if it can translate to a win over the Broncos.
Key #1: Aggies win the Battle of the Boards
USU really dominated the boards in the first half, out-rebounding the Lobos 40-36. The gap was even wider after the first half as the Aggies asserted their will over an elite Lobos team.
Even in situations where the Aggies didn’t secure the rebound, it was apparent that they were trying to tip the ball to someone on their team.
“Both teams got in foul trouble early,” Utah State Coach Ryan Odom said. “It’s not easy stuff. I can’t say enough about our team.”
Key #2: Taylor Funk has Merrill Moment
After scoring the first 16 points for his team, and 16 more throughout the game, it was clear who was taking the All-MWC snub personally.
“I guess Taylor Funk’s performance showed everyone that,” Dan Akin said. “He should have been an All-Conference player,”
Coach Odom just beamed in the press conference at how Akin stepped in for his teammate.
Funk was quick to add some humble pie to his response as he credited all his teammates for their talent.as well.
“Obviously Steve Ashworth got it,” Funk said. “It was earned, not given. I think any of us could have gotten it. There’s not just won guy who stands out that you have to guard on this team. You have to guard all of us.”
Guard was something that New Mexico didn’t do well especially on Funk. While he had some contested shots, the way they went under screens allowed him to read the defense and confidently knock down 6-10 from three. The Aggies shot 12-24 as a team, while the Lobos shot just 2-10.
Key #3: Every Lobos attempt was met with an Aggie answer
This was a game of runs. USU led by as many as 18 and never trailed. They were ahead by 11 going into the break. The sizable Lobo contingent made noise every time their team got into single digits, but the Aggies stretched the lead back out.
Jamal Mashburn Jr. on one occasion made a jumper to cut the lead to six points, but then the Aggies went on an 8-0 run to stretch the lead to 14 points with 14 minutes to go. The Aggies dominated the Lobos in a way that even the 2020 championship Aggie team didn’t in their close quarterfinal win led by Sam Merrill.
“That’s what March Madness is all about,” Odom said. “The big plays. We’ve seen it in the men’s and women’s game the last two weeks. We are blessed to be a part of it. That’s why that first weekend is so special.”
While there were last second shots by other teams to save their seasons, the Aggies wanted to make this game boring early. They clamped down and took that double digit lead to the point where only glimpses of a single digit deficit would give the Lobos a glimmer of hope only to be dashed by Ashworth and Funk. The two combined for 54 points. Could they find themselves selected to the All-Tournament team? They are certainly trending that way with elite company.
Selection Sunday Outlook
USU has climbed all the way to 18 in the NET rankings. No team that high has ever missed the NCAA Tournament in the short history this system has been used. However, a win over Boise would make the Aggies a virtual lock. While only the 32 conference champions are guaranteed a spot, the Aggies have a compelling argument for one of the at-large bids. According to Team Rankings, the Aggies have an 88% chance to get such a bid if they lose this next game to Boise. The only way they maybe could miss it is if a large number bid stealers, teams that were never in the tournament conversation to begin with, win their conference tournaments. With Nevada losing to San Jose State in an overtime classic, it looks like the Wolfpack will be the Mountain West bubble team sweating the most on Selection Sunday. The conference should have at least San Diego State as a lock, but could see as many as three or four if San Jose finds a way to steal a bid.
It’s time to have Mountain Dew on standby. The Aggies face Boise in a rematch from last week’s Senior Night win. The Broncos and Aggies split the season series, each winning on their home court. The game will take place at the Thomas and Mack Center at 10 p.m. MT following the San Diego State vs San Jose State semifinal game. The game will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network.
Featured image via Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos