LOGAN – With just more than one minute left in January’s game against UNLV in Las Vegas, the Aggies had a five-point lead and Rebel fans were leaving the arena. It looked like the young USU team was about to pick up a win where wins don’t come easy.
“We had a chance to win the game about five times, but we just gift wrapped it and gave it back to them,” Head Coach Stew Morrill said after the January loss.
That was a month ago. Now the Aggies are on a four-game win streak are looking to redeem themselves Tuesday night in the Spectrum.
“We lost a heartbreaker at UNLV,” junior guard Darius Perkins said. “We need to come out prepared, energetic and get to it defensively and rebound.”
According to Morrill, even though his team won Saturday night against Fresno State, the defense was struggling. It was his 400th career win, but said it was the toughest one he’s had “in a while.” He said the challenges of Tuesday’s game against UNLV could be similar.
“We were up against it every possession trying to guard Fresno State,” Morrill said. “That’s what you look at with UNLV with (Christian) Wood inside and (Patrick) McCaw on the perimeter. They just got a whole bunch of different guys who can hurt you.”
UNLV will be without key freshman Rashad Vaughan, who was injured earlier in the month against Fresno State, but Morrill said the Rebels look to have adjusted. They were able to pick up a 76-68 win in New Mexico Saturday night.
“They played really good basketball at New Mexico,” Morrill said. “New Mexico is going through a tough stretch right now, but you still got to go into The Pit and beat them, and that’s not an easy thing to do.”
If the Aggies are able to win Tuesday night, it would improve their record to 17-10 overall and 10-5 in Mountain West play, keeping them in at least fifth place in the standings. Before the season started, Morrill’s inexperienced team was picked to finished second-to-last in the conference.
“I told them before the game the other night, ‘It doesn’t look like you’re going to finish 10th. That’s where you were picked, and it doesn’t look like you’re going to finish there,’” Morrill said. “I’ve been on them all year to prove they were better than that.”
Morrill said some years he wouldn’t be pleased with the number of wins he has now, but this year is different.
“You got to look at the circumstances and everything else,” he said. “It’s been just a great group that way, trying to trust in what we’re telling them, do what we’re telling them and getting better as we go. That was kind of our thing, let’s just try to keep getting better. Let’s get better as we go.
“I think it’s been rewarding for them. I think they’re a little proud of themselves, and you need to be in athletics sometimes. You don’t need to always be thinking you’re not doing good enough. You need to feel good about yourself. I think that’s really important.”