LOGAN – Any chance the Utah State basketball team had of winning a conference championship was lost weeks ago. Recent losses at Fresno State and Nevada worsened the situation, guaranting the Aggies a finish in the bottom-half of the standings, which will mean no first-round bye come conference tournament time. Sitting at 5-10 in conference with three games left means a winning regular-season in conference is impossible.
Despite this, head coach Tim Duryea is optimistic. He wants to finish the last three regular season games of his inaugural head coaching season strong and go into the tournament with confidence. He and his players know there is still a lot left to play for.
“They’ve been a resilient group for what they have been through,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll lose that now.”
After starting conference play 3-3, the team suffered five-straight losses, but Duryea’s boys bounced back and were able to pick up two-straight wins at home – an 80-72 victory against New Mexico and a 13-point win a week later against Colorado State.
After the New Mexico win, the team seemed to be in high spirits. Redshirt freshman Quinn Taylor summed up the team’s relieved feelings after the game.
“We were really tired of losing,” he said.
The Aggies then hit the road for two games against Nevada and Fresno State. The team was in a position to win both, but came up short each time.
Adding to the frustrations of losing games is the additional challenges of losing teammates. Just days before the season started, leading scorer David Collette quit. Then, in a game at Colorado State, senior Grayson Moore was sidelined for the season when he broke his foot.
But Duryea insists his team is resilient. He said the players still believe they can play with anyone and that close losses have shown that. The Aggies are near the bottom of the conference, but it is a conference Duryea called “balanced from top to bottom.”
“I don’t think there’s a big division where there are three or four of us that have been blown out every night and there are three or four of us that have been blowing people out every night,” he said. “It’s not that way. It has come down to some teams have won close games and some teams haven’t. That is the dividing line of the conference.”
Duryea said he has talked with his team for weeks about the upcoming conference tournament. He said when that time comes, it won’t be about where the team is seeded or where it finishes in standings, but it will be about “confidence, playing well and playing with desire.”
“The teams that do that are the ones that are going to advance in the tournament regardless of seed,” he said.
But before the conference tournament comes, the Aggies want to win the last three games on the schedule. All of that starts Saturday at home against San Jose State.
“It’s basically a three-game season going into the tournament,” Duryea said. “We have two of those three games at home and we need to take advantage of that.”