COLUMBUS, Ohio (ABC4 Sports) – Just two years ago, the Utah State basketball team was 14-17. Now, they’re favored to beat the Pac-12 regular season champions in the NCAA Tournament.
Leading scorer and Mountain West Conference Player of the Year Sam Merrill didn’t think the Aggies would reach the top of the mountain.
“To be honest, the last couple years, my goal was still to make the NCAA Tournament, but I was starting to doubt,“ said Merrill as the Aggies prepare to take on Washington in the first round on Friday. “But fortunately we have a lot of guys in this program that do things the right now.“
One of those guys, new head coach Craig Smith, who along with freshman phenom Neemias Queta, have helped turn the Aggies into a top-25 team.
“Well, it’s been an incredible ride and it’s really been quite magical,“ said Smith, who is 28-6 in his first year at the helm. “It’s a funny thing about life. If you expect the best out of everybody, that’s very often what you’re going to get.“
Quin Taylor is the only player who is in his fourth season with te Aggies, and he has been amazed at the transformation.
“It’s been great to bring back that tradition that Utah State has,“ said Taylor. “To be a part of that, this is my fifth year. It’s been a great part of my life, so I’m excited that the excitement is back for basketball.“
“The last couple years we’ve been down a little bit,“ said guard Abel Porter. “But, after seeing this team and seeing this organization and knowing what we can be about, it hasn’t really surprised me.“
But while the NCAA Tournament is a new experience for everyone on the team, including Coach Smith, they’re not here to just soak in the spectacle of the Big Dance. They intend to move on, and in fact, they’re favored to do just that.
“Our goal all year was to get to the NCAA Tournament, and the caveat to that was to win when we get here. It was never about just making it,“ Smith said. “It was about winning when we get here. So, we have not had to re-prioritize our goals.“
“It’s been quite a turnaround that we’ve had,“ added junior guard Brock Miller. “We’ve had a great season, and we want to keep it going.“
Utah State will be looking for its first NCAA Tournament win since 2001, and just its second since 1970. This is the Aggies first appearance in the Big Dance in eight years.