Team Profile: Utah State at Saint Mary’s Preview
Saturday, 5 P.M. EST, ESPN2
Utah State goes into St. Mary’s gymnasium desperate for a win. The visitors have to prove that they can win this game on the road even if the Gaels are still without star guard Patty Mills.
Stew Morrill’s team had a 19-game winning streak before losing last week at Boise State, but the boss of the Aggies program has had a hard time putting together a quality schedule when the WAC is down.
“I will play anybody, home-and-home or on a neutral court,” Morrill told Mark Blaudschun of the Boston Globe last week.
As for this year’s team, Morrill said to Blaudschun. “We’re not a dominant team. We’re pretty feisty. We compete, but we’re not dominant. Balance is our strength this year.”
Consider this: Utah State’s best player is 26 years old.
6-foot-9 post player Gary Wilkinson (17.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg) never played high school basketball and went on a two-year Mormon mission before he started his college basketball career.
St. Mary’s situation is as simple as the countdown of a calendar. Mills’ return from a broken hand is scheduled for the start of the West Coast Conference tournament, and Saint Mary’s continues to long for his return.
“It’s one less game,” said junior center Omar Samhan, who was 6-for-10 from the floor and finished with 17 points. “At that time of year, one less game is a big difference.”
Key Matchup: St. Mary’s sophomore point guard Mickey McConnell vs. Utah State junior guard Jared Quayle
McConnell is Mills’ replacement, and what a 77-65 victory over Portland last week proved is that the Arizona-bred played must play very well for the Gaels to win. Period.
Quayle is a solid guard for a team with a lot of balance but he’s turned it over twice for every assist in each of the last two games. The junior is shooting 45 percent from the field and 38 percent from three, but his ability to run the team will key a road victory.
Prediction: Utah State 73, St. Mary’s 70
Here’s how this game will help both teams involved: the Gaels, in a loss, can prove they can play solid basketball without Patty Mills against a 24-2 team. Utah State gets a road win that will impress the Committee.