no match for Gael force
By Tim Olsen
February 22, 2009 | Utah State took the court Saturday
as the only team to play and never lose an ESPNU BracketBuster
game. After a hard-fought battle the Ags saw that streak
snapped as well, as they fell to Saint Mary's, 75-64.
It was senior night in Moraga, Calif., but despite
a raucous sold-out crowd at the McKeon Pavilion, USU
stayed close to the Gaels and used a 6-0 run to pull
out of an early 6-2 hole and take a two-point lead on
a pull-up jumper by senior Gary Wilkinson.
Saint Mary's used a run of its own to regain the lead,
but behind a Brady Jardine three-point play and a Stavon
Williams three-pointer, the Aggies stayed close and
looked to be in good position heading into the intermission.
Near the end of the half however, costly turnovers
hurt the Ags and spurred the Gaels on a 9-3 run over
the final three minutes of the period. For the second
week in a row the Aggies headed into the half with a
deficit in a hostile environment, as they trailed 38-29.
In the second half the Aggies needed to make a run
to get back into the game and put the pressure back
on Saint Mary's. But, it was the Gael's who would go
on a run, extending the lead even more.
Behind the interior presence of Omar Samhan, the Gaels
put USU in its biggest hole of the season. With 16:45
left in the game the Aggies found themselves on the
wrong side of a 45-31 deficit.
Samhan finished the game with 17 points on 8-of-13
shooting, 12 rebounds and four blocks, but it was sophomore
guard Mickey McConnel -- Patty Mills' replacement --
who led the Gaels with a career-high 22-points.
On the verge of getting rolled over on the road, the
Aggies would answer. Sparked by a Jared Quayle three-pointer
the Ags went on a 9-2 run to cut the lead in half with
more than 12 minutes to play.
Over the next few minutes the teams traded baskets
and it seemed as if the Aggies would not be able to
pull any closer until Pooh Williams connected on a triple,
cutting the lead to five, 58-53, with five minutes to
Aided by great defense and some Gael mistakes, the
Ags seemed primed to make one more run, and when Quayle
connected on an NBA-length three-pointer that cut the
lead to three with 2:06 left, it looked as if USU would
to be able to pull off the comeback.
In the end though, it was too little too late. Empty
possessions down the stretch stymied the Aggie run and
Saint Mary's was able to make enough free throws to
seal the game.
Quayle led the Aggies with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting
but also accounted for five of USU's nine turnovers.
Wilkinson was the only other Aggie to score in double
figures, pumping in 16 points.
The Aggies will return to conference action this week
when they host Hawaii at 7 p.m. Thursday. A win against
the Warriors would give the Ags the outright regular
season WAC conference championship, and guarantee them
an automatic bid to the NIT tournament if they happen
to miss the NCAA tournament.