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USU women's basketball: Aggies hoping to use Mountain West tournament as a springboard

Published March 5, 2017 6:00 pm

MWC tournament • USU women have shown they can beat, or lose to, anybody.
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The Utah State women's basketball team enters the Mountain West Conference tournament lacking experience, but with a growing confidence and a few question marks. After all, USU has wins against the top-tier teams, but it also has lost to teams at the bottom of the conference.

An injury to the Aggies' starting point guard will also add to the intrigue when the sixth-seeded Aggies (16-13, 9-9 MWC) tip off at 8 p.m. MST Monday against 11th seed Air Force (4-24, 2-16) in the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

The teams split their regular-season series with a three-point margin of victory in each game.

"Our defense has gotten so much better since the start of the season," sophomore guard and Aggies leading scorer (13.7 points per game) Rachel Brewster said. "Our offensive execution is starting to fall into place. I've definitely seen an improvement since the start of the season. I think we've had a couple of setbacks, but because we're a young team our ability to bounce back from that has been really good."

The Aggies have already amassed their most wins and their most Mountain West wins since the 2012-13 season as well as the most wins at home (12) in program history. The 2012-13 season marked Jerry Finkbeiner's first as head coach, and he'd inherited what ended up being the winningest senior class in program history.

This year's squad has a decidedly different make-up. The Aggies feature the youngest starting lineup in Division I with three to four freshmen starting regularly this season. The Aggies enter the postseason having won seven of 10.

"The funny thing about our team is that we've split with the best teams in the conference, home and home, and we've also split with the last-place team, home and home," Finkbeiner said. "We can beat anybody in the standings, it's just can we put together two, three, four in a row?"

Freshman point guard Eliza West, a 5-foot-5 spark plug from Victoria, Australia, will play limited minutes due to a hand injury, but it's not clear to what extent her playing time will be shortened. She did not take part in practice for several days at the end of the week, but Finkbeiner said West, who has started all 29 games and averaged 8.0 points and 4.8 assists per game, was expected to practice with the team on Sunday.

Olivia West, a 5-foot-6 guard from Australia who is not related to Eliza, will likely pick up extra playing time with Eliza West's injury. Olivia West has come off the bench in every game this season.

The Aggies won games against three of the conference's top four teams — Colorado State, Boise State and UNLV. They've also won five games decided by six points or less.

"I tell my coaching friends around the country, 'Don't bet on us, but don't bet against us either,' " Finbeiner said. "I wouldn't be surprised either direction. I do know this team is going to be good in a couple, three years."

The Aggies' accomplishments this season have come with just two seniors, no juniors, seven sophomores and six freshmen. This postseason could serve as a starting point for a two or three-season run with the same core of players.

"I think we're going to do so well, and we've done so well this season considering we're so young," said 6-foot-2 freshman forward Shannon Dufficy, the third-leading rebounder in the conference (8.8 rebounds per game). "I really think it's going to help us for the next few years, but a the moment we're focusing on what we can do this year."


Twitter: @LWorthySports






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