USU comes up just short of Tournament Title as Aztecs win

USU comes up just short of Tournament Title as Aztecs win

by Daniel Olsen

Having met San Diego State in three of the last four conference tournament championship games, the Aggies were ever the rival to challenge the Aztecs in this conference. Challenge was all they could do though as Utah State was not able to defeat the regular season conference champions in a 62-57 defeat. It was a memorable three days in Las Vegas, and with that three thought stand out on this game.

1. Credit to Taylor Funk and Steve Ashworth

While it was disappointing for this group that had aspirations back to last summer of winning a Mountain West Championship, Aggie fans should be proud of the dynamic duo that was Taylor Funk and Steven Ashworth. The two became the first Aggie pair to be named to the All-Tournament team since Neemias Queta and Justin Bean were selected in 2021. They joined San Diego State’s pair of Matt Bradley and Jaedon LeDee as well as Boise’s Tyson Degenhart among the other players to get such honors.

Ashworth and Funk both combined for 54 points in the win over New Mexico in the quarterfinals. While they cooled off with their shooting in later rounds, their deep threat still was a factor in getting them ever so close to winning a Mountain West championship.

“Taylor was a big reason why we won our first game,” USU Coach Ryan Odom said. “Even though didn’t make as many shots today, him being on the court is valuable because of the attention he draws from the defense. Steve is a special guy. Steve answered all the questions unlike anyone his age. He’s not the tallest or strongest guy. He has the biggest heart. He sets the tone for our team that we are not going to give in no matter what’s going on.”

2. Trevin Dorius has early success but San Diego State Adjusts

With both teams struggling from the outside, the Aggies went down low to Trevin Dorius early and often. His lengthy 7-foot frame provided some early buckets that were largely responsible for the early double-digit lead the Aggies were able to build. The Aztecs had to make adjustments to defend him.

“At that point of the game when I had the alley-oop, we were playing well,” Dorius said. “Then they took Nate Mensah out. They threw in Jaedon Ledee, and game is a little different on both ends of the floor.”

Dorius ended the game with 12 points with the majority of them coming in the first half. LeDee scored 13 points off the bench, which proved to be a difference-maker in the game. The depth of the Aztec bench proved too much for the Aggies to contain as they combined for 33 points. The Aggie bench combined for just 16 points.

3. Missed Layups and free throws

The Aggies shot just 50 percent from the free throw line at 7-14. They did shoot a little over half of San Diego State’s attempts from the charity stripe though. The Aztecs shot 20-26 from the free throw line which proved to be a key difference in the game. While the Aggies shot better early on and San Diego couldn’t make a shot, the Aztecs found themselves down by just one point going into halftime.

The missed opportunities from the free throw line and at least 5-10 occasions where they missed wide open shots at the the rim will sting in the minds of these Aggie players. The inside blocking ability of the Aztecs might have been lurking in the back of the heads of the Aggies as they launched floaters to the rim that fell just short.

Up Next: The Big Dance

Utah State heard its name called on Selection Sunday. They earned a spot in the South region. They will face the Missouri Tigers of the Southeastern Conference in a 7 vs 10 matchup. The game will be broadcast on TNT at 11:40 a.m. MT. The Aggies will be looking to win their first NCAA Tournament game since 2001, while Missouri will look to snap their six game losing streak in tournament games. The Tigers last won a first round tournament game in 2010.

Featured image courtesy Associated Press

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