USU set to face San Diego State after win over Boise State

USU set to face San Diego State after win over Boise State

by Daniel Olsen

While the Aggies trailed by eight going into halftime, they were never out of the game. They rallied back to take their first lead with 7:45 left in the game and took the momentum to a 72-62 win over the Boise State Broncos in front of an Aggie-friendly crowd. USU had to work for this win and had several situations go their way as well.

1. Max Shulga hits timely shots

While Taylor Funk was the hero in the New Mexico game, he and the Aggies were in a shooting funk early on. Someone needed to step up. Enter Max Shulga. Shulga scored a team high 19 points including 3-7 from three. He was well above the mean as the Aggies combined to shoot just 31 percent from three. Shulga was the only Aggie to make a three in the first 18 minutes of the game until Ashworth broke the drought.

“Teams don’t win with one guy,” Max Shulga said. “We pass the ball around and find the open guy and eventually we will find our shot.”

That is what the Aggies did as they out-scored the Broncos 44-26 in the second half. It was reminiscent of the 44-point first half against New Mexico in the previous game but had a different feeling as it was more of a comeback than cruising to a win.

2. Aggies Achieve goal of competing for a Mountain West Championship

In the summer, the Utah State basketball team set a goal to compete for a Mountain West championship. While San Diego State won the regular season title, the Aggies will have that chance to play for the conference tournament title. However, the Aggies aren’t just satisfied to be there.

“I’m happy they have the opportunity they’ve seeked for all summer,” Utah State Coach Ryan Odom said. “They will have to play really well to beat a great San Diego State team.”

This will be the fourth championship in the last five seasons in which the Aztecs and Aggies face off in the Conference Championship game. It is also the first appearance for Coach Odom as Craig Smith was the one who went 2-1. After a brief hiatus from contention in his first year, Coach Odom’s team got back on track and has made the case for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. If they can win the conference outright and earn the auto-bid, even better.

“That second half we saw Aggie basketball,” Steven Ashworth said. “We were taking the shots that we should take and trusting in each other when we needed to.”

3. Steven Ashworth energizes crowd

With the Aggies struggling from three, Ashworth found other ways to help the Aggies. Eventually he found his stroke and made a couple to end with a 3-10 3PT% line that was modest for him. Every time he draws a charge or pumps up the crowd, his energy helps the team even when he isn’t lighting up the box score.

“There is a balance,” Ashworth said. “It’s important to focus on the main thing on the court, but we know the crowd can impact the outcome of games. We know that from what we experience every home game at the Spectrum and we take a lot of pride in calling that our home court. When fans are showing up this way in Las Vegas, it just adds the extra element that we are able to play for something more than ourselves.”

Ashworth and Shulga were key facilitators, leading the Aggies with five assists each. As a team the Aggies combined for 21 assists to just 12 from Boise State.

Up next: Aggies vs Aztecs

This is becoming familiar territory for these two programs. Including football, there have been four championship games between the Aggies and Aztecs with the lone loss coming in 2021. San Diego State is coming into this game with a #20 AP Top 25 ranking. The Aztecs have often been nationally ranked when facing the Aggies in these situations. This will only add to the excitement when USU has been able to come out with a win.

The Aggies and Aztecs will tip off at 4 p.m. MT on CBS. It will be a great opportunity for national exposure as the previous tournament games were either on the CBS Sports Network or, for the play-in games, the Mountain West app.

Featured image via Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos

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