Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
LOGAN — An old saying is “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
At Utah State, the longer Stew Morrill leads the Aggies program and the more players go through, the more the constant presence of winning persists, despite adversity and chance.
Like earlier last week, when Utah State announced that Jarred Shaw was let go from the team. After the announcement, the weight of worry on the shoulders of Aggies fans could definitely be felt.
Now, after a 3-0 finish in the Basketball Travelers Inc. Tournament, Utah State can move forward into the next few weeks with confidence and a trust in its roster, whether it has Shaw on it or not.
The Aggies posted blowout wins over Western Illinois and Troy — two middling teams that Utah State was expected to blow out. The real measuring stick of where this team is without Shaw came in an overtime victory over UC Santa Barbara, 77-71. The Gauchos came into the matchup with victories over both UNLV and Cal, and boasted the best overall record in the Big West Conference. And Santa Barbara held an eight-point lead late in the game in Utah State’s vaunted home arena.
Instead, the Aggies found a way to get the game into overtime, and in the process gave hope to a fan base that was worried whether the team would adjust to such adversity.
Part of the Utah State formula to success is the expectations that Morrill, the famed coach, places on his team, and that expectation hasn’t dropped despite the absence of Shaw.
“We have a tradition of winning this tournament,” Morrill said after Utah State’s 71-50 blowout win over Troy — a game where the Aggies’ bench outscored Troy’s 45-9. “We’ve got to come back (after Christmas break), and get ready for Mountain West play.”
Again, like any team with a winning tradition, the cast of characters may ebb and flow but the production of results stays constant. Morrill expects Utah State to contend for titles; thus, the Aggies make plays to win games.
Before leaving the team, Shaw was leading the team in scoring, averaging 16.1 points a game. Yet his absence has allowed for further development of players like Spencer Butterfield, Preston Medlin and Kyle Davis. In the game against UCSB, Butterfield scored a career-high 31 points and averaged 17.3 points a game during the tournament run.
Morrill said the quality of play starts with the intensity of play — a quality he has sworn will not drop regardless of who is playing for Utah State.
“We played really hard, all three nights,” he said. “We were helping each other, we were trying to guard the ball better … we had a lot of posts coming to the ball and helping and doing what they need to do. I think that was a step in the right direction.”
Absolutely it was a step in the right direction. No team can lose a post player like Shaw, who is a presence on both ends of the floor, and not have to make adjustments. Time can make up for the loss of any player, but it starts with additional players taking on other assignments.
Butterfield has to score more, Davis will have to be more of a rebounder and defender, and Danny Berger will have to exert himself more on the glass as well. The Aggies can still win in the Mountain West, even without Shaw, but it will start with making the adjustments — a move that is facilitated by coaching.
And, like Aggies fans frequently note, “In Stew we trust.”
Indeed, the more things change, the more they stay the same.