University beat: USU women hit stride midway through WAC season

University beat • Aggies adjusting to uptempo offense.
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With conference play nearly halfway over and an important road trip coming up, it appears the Utah State women's basketball team has begun to hit its stride.

The offseason saw coaching changes and a hit on the roster that took nearly 37 points a game away from last season's WNIT squad and second-place finisher in the WAC.

In addition, new coach Jerry Finkbeiner's preseason schedule had his Aggies play seven of their first nine games away from the Spectrum. But now USU (8-10, 5-2 WAC) has won five of seven and sits in second place, two games behind Seattle University.

Utah State travels to UT-Arlington (3-14, 1-6) and Louisiana Tech (8-9, 4-3) Thursday and Saturday, respectively. Louisiana Tech is one of four teams that sit at 4-3 in conference play.

"If I had this team right now, our total win and loss record would be different," said Finkbeiner, who came to USU after 16 seasons and five NCAA Tournament appearances at Oral Roberts. "[The preseason schedule] was not ideal for a new coach."

In taking over for Raegan Pebley, now at Fresno State, Finkbeiner, who has 462 career victories, changed the offense. It took a while for the Aggies, who won a program-high 21 games last season, to adjust to an uptempo attack.

Devyn Christensen, the preseason WAC Player of the year, has lived up to her billing, scoring 20.4 points per game, while pulling down 4.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

More importantly for USU, Jennifer Schlott, this week's WAC Player of the Week, and Jenna Johnson had to fill the holes left by graduation. They've combined for 28 points a game, 34 in conference.

"We're seeing the benefits of a lot of practices and a lot of hard work," Finkbeiner said.

The key moment for Finkbeiner and the Aggies came on a recent road swing to Seattle U. and Idaho. Christensen nearly won the Seattle game at the buzzer, but missed and USU lost a tough overtime decision.

Utah State fell behind Idaho twice by double digits, including 16 in the second half, but came back to win.

"I like where we're at right now after preconference," Finkbeiner said.

Twitter: @tribmarty