Here is my question-and-answer session with Shawn Harrison, who covers Utah State men’s basketball for The Herald Journal in Logan, Utah, about Wednesday’s first-round game at the Mountain West Tournament with the University of Wyoming.
Tip off is at Noon MT at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
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How would you describe the season for Utah State with a new head coach and a pretty experienced roster returning from last season?
It has been disappointing. There were high expectations with the preseason polls and the veterans coming back. Plus, the new coach had been part of the program for so long the transition was smooth. I really believe the Aggies never fully recovered from David Collette quitting the team two days before the first game. That was a huge blow.
What has been the biggest changes under first-year coach Tim Duryea, and how do you see the program moving forward under his leadership?
Duryea has allowed the athletes to create more on their own when they push the ball. The offense is not as structured as it was under Stew Morrill. Duryea also is much more calmer, but has shown some emotion the last month and the players have said they like seeing him get fired up. As far as moving forward, there are some highly regarded recruits that have verbally committed. If they can get them signed when the time comes around, that would be a big step forward.
Like many MW teams, Utah State has been in its share of close games. What has been the difference in winning and losing those games?
There are at least three games Utah State had won, then just fell apart at the end. Costly turnovers in the final minutes and missed free throws have attributed to the losses. There is really only one close MW game the Aggies have won, and they just made plays and kept scoring at the end. Early in the season, Utah State won several close games with clutch shots and free throws.
Wyoming made 20 3-pointers in the lone game with Utah State this season in Laramie. How or will the Aggies adjust their defense on Wednesday for that?
The Aggies feel about half of those were well guarded, and the Cowboys just made great shots. There were some open looks and lackadaisical efforts on defense on the others. They have worked and stressed to contest every shot, plus try and not allow the penetration that took place in Laramie. Utah State has been playing much better defense the last two weeks of the season.
How do you see Wednesday’s game playing out, and who wins?
Well, I was way off in the first meeting. It will be interesting to see what effect the suspensions have on Wyoming. Utah State has played really well since losing at Laramie, even in three losses. They had several minutes of silly mistakes at the end of each of those setbacks. If the Aggies can play an entire 40 minutes like they have a couple of times, they are a pretty good team. I think Utah State will bounce back from a very tough home loss to Fresno State and beat Wyoming, 76-70.
Cowboys game day
Game: (8) Wyoming (14-17 overall, 7-11 Mountain West) vs. (9) Utah State (15-14, 7-11)
When: Noon Wednesday
Where: Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas
TV: MW Network (online only)
Radio: KFBC (1240 AM, 97.5 FM) Cheyenne; KCGY (96.1 FM) Laramie