Aggies look for more of that tough Maui defense against Northern Arizona
By Wade Denniston
It's back to the road for the Utah State University men's basketball team as it faces Northern Arizona University Tuesday at the Role Activity Center in Flagstaff, Ariz.
USU (3-1) is coming off a successful Maui Invitational showing, which saw it take sixth-ranked University of Florida to the limit before losing in the final minute. Then USU beat host Chaminade University, as well as PAC-10 opponent University of Southern California.
While each game was impressive, what was even more spectacular was the defense shown by Utah State.
USU held Florida to just 60 points after it had racked up 96 points in the game before vs. in-state rival Florida State University. Chaminade managed just 48 points, a drop off of 30 points from its first game in the tournament against Purdue University.
And, in the tournament finale against USC, the Trojans could only put up 50 points after a 92-point performance vs. the Tigers of Memphis University.
"Our guys did a great job," Aggie head coach Stew Morrill told KVNU radio after the 52-50 victory. "That's a fun win for all our fans. Once in a while you like to step up to the plate and beat the big boys and to get a win over a PAC-10 team is special."
However, it appeared as if the Aggies were going to be blown out early on in the game as they couldn't get anything going, but they battled back and controlled much of the second half.
Then, it looked as if this game was going to be a carbon copy of the University of Florida game. Utah State had built a seven-point lead with under 10 minutes to go in the game, but USC put the defensive clamps on and eventually took the lead back, 50-49, after junior forward/center Brian Scalabrine buried a three-pointer down the middle with under two minutes left.
Each team stepped up its defense as nobody could score in the waning moments of the game -- that is until Aggie junior guard Bernard Rock stole the show, and the game.
With 41.3 seconds to go, Trojan sophomore guard Brandon Granville missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity, and the Aggies controlled the boards.
Still with a foul to give, USC elected to use it, which resulted in the shot clock being shut off, leaving USU in the same situation as it was against Florida, a chance to win it at the buzzer.
This time, there would be no controversial finish.
With time running down, Aggie sophomore guard Tony Brown passed up on what appeared to be a wide-open attempt at the basket, and dished it off to Rock, who promptly buried a three-point shot off of the backboard, giving USU a two-point lead with 9.1 seconds remaining.
The Aggie defense beared down in the final seconds as it thwarted any chances the Trojans had in pulling out a victory.
"Close games are just weird because so many things happen," Morrill told KVNU. "The other night we think we get fouled and it's not called. So many things happen that we could have won the game.
"Tonight, I said to them in the locker room, 'Well, I heard Bernard call bank.' That shot went down and he was nodding his head that he was banking it, so we'll just leave it at that."
USU finished fifth in Maui, and won more games in a row at the tournament, aside from the champion (fourth-ranked University of North Carolina).
However, more important to Utah State than its respectable showing in Hawaii, was its loss of 6-foot-11 junior center Dimitri Jorssen for four to six weeks, due to a fractured ankle suffered vs. Chaminade on Nov. 23.
While USU and NAU have not met since the 1951-52 season (when the Aggies won, 85-70), the Lumberjacks have already beaten two Big West Conference opponents this season.
On Nov. 20, Northern Arizona (2-1) beat Boise State University 60-53 in Flagstaff.
Three days later, on Nov. 23, NAU went into Mott Gymnasium in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and defeated California Polytechnic State University, 76-72.
However, Northern Arizona is coming off a 49-46 loss to San Jose State University in Flagstaff on Saturday.
Tipoff for the Aggies and Lumberjacks is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.,
and will be the first of two games between the two teams this year.
NAU will visit the Spectrum on Dec. 9.