The Utah State women started hot and didn’t look back. The Aggies defeated Denver 78-65 in USU’s first game of the WAC tournament.
The Aggies were led by junior guard Jennifer Schlott’s 21 point, eight assist performance. Senior Devyn Christensen and freshman Makenlee Williams each added 16 for USU. Denver was led by WAC All-Freshman Team member Kailey Edwards’ 18 points.
“We have a lot of respect for the University of Denver and how they are coached and the kind of team they have,” USU head coach Jerry Finkbeiner said after the game. “I mean that in all sense of the word because it’s really hard to match up against a team that’s so guard oriented.”
Schlott scored first for the Aggies on a layup just nine seconds after tipoff and Utah State jumped out to a quick 13-5 lead just four minutes into the game. Denver didn’t get much closer, trailing USU by as much as 17 in the first half.
“By design we’ve kind of kept these girls back emotionally most of the year,” Finkbeiner said. “We’ve tried to maintain an even keel and we’re trying to spill emotion now. We’re trying to celebrate. We’re trying to show emotion.
“Tonight is the most emotional our team has played. I think it’s a big part of a team sport. We have a lot left in our tanks. We’re not burned out, we’re not excited out and we’re not beat down. It’s time just to release it.
“I was really happy in the first five minutes because I wanted to see where this emotion would take us. When you hit shots and you’re having fun, for a group of young women, it’s hard to stop them.”
At the break, the Aggies led 45-32. Schlott had 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting along with five assists in the first 20 minutes of play.
“My teammates put me in really good positions,” Schlott said. “We shared the ball really well tonight. Everything was clicking. It was just one of those games that felt good.”
The second half was more of the same story. After a bucket by Denver to start the half, USU went on a 13-2 run over three minutes to extend their lead to 22. From there the Aggies put the game on cruise control.
“It was just like every other game,” Williams said. “There is more on the line but I wasn’t really focused on what was on the line. I just wanted to go out there and play and obviously get the win and we did and it was a blast.”
Williams had a big second half for the Aggies. After having just five points at the half, she finished strong, scoring 11 after halftime.
“She can score. She’s a great player,” Schlott said of Williams’ performance. “She looked to shoot tonight which was great because we always tell her she’s one of the best shooters we have on the team. She could do this every night.”
Denver’s Maiya Michel got a tip-in at the end of regulation to make the final score 78-65.
Offensively, the Aggies shot 54 percent from the field and 52 percent from behind the 3-point line.
“We’re a good shooting team,” Finkbeiner said. “We lead the country in free throws. We can shoot the ball, I think the question is ‘can we make that one more pass? Can we peripherally see that girl on the side because there is someone open on the side?’
“We had some really good passes, especially in the first half. The girls just hit their open shots. I brag about these ladies. I’d hate to play HORSE with five or six of them because they are good shooters. Tonight they distributed the ball really well and that was the answer.”
USU dominated defensively as well, holding Denver to just 2-of-16 shooting from behind the arc.
“We put defense in capital letters at the top of the chalkboard,” Finkbeiner said. “We wanted to hold Denver to less than 68, that was their average, and they only got 65. We cheered that one in the locker room just now.”
Utah State advances to face #3 seed Idaho on Friday, March 15 at noon Pacific, 1 p.m. Mountain in the semifinals of the WAC tournament. A live game broadcast will be available on KLGN 1390 AM/103.3 FM and 1390klgn.com.