A win is a win, even if it’s ugly.
And that’s exactly what Utah State’s victory looked like Thursday night against UT Arlington.
After building a 20-point lead at halftime, the Aggies had to hold on for dear life as they secured a 93-83 win over the Mavericks in a Western Athletic Conference game at the College Park Center in Arlington, Texas.
“I thought we crossed the line two games ago that we know how to finish a game, but we still don’t,” USU head coach Jerry Finkbeiner said. “... We’re still heading in the right direction and we’re winning now by not playing well, so that’s a positive. We’re doing OK.”
Devyn Christensen scored a game-high 21 points for the Aggies (9-10, 6-2), who won for the third straight time. Franny Vaaulu contributed 18 points, seven rebounds, five blocks and three steals off the bench.
The win proved to be bittersweet, though, as starting point guard Jennifer Schlott sprained both of her ankles in the second half. She finished with 10 points and three assists in 24 minutes of work.
“Jen Schlott played really well until she went down and then Franny had a very good game, very solid,” Finkbeiner said. “There’s nothing to critique about her game, but she played well, very, very solid. If I had a game ball, it’d probably be split between Jen Schlott and Franny.”
When Schlott checked out of the game for the final time, USU had a pretty sizable lead.
“She sprained her right ankle with about 18 minutes to go,” Finkbeiner said. “We called timeout and she walked it off, went back out and then sprained her left ankle. We had to pull her out and put both ankles on ice.
“We went from an 18-point lead at that point in time and they cut it to three. Devyn made a couple of long shots that probably weren’t advised shots, but they went in so we’ll take them, and we pulled it out.”
The Aggies led by 21 with 8:47 remaining in the game, but the Mavericks (3-15, 1-7) didn’t roll over.
Behind a 28-10 spurt, UT Arlington pared the deficit to 81-78 with 2:20 remaining. However, Christensen scored the next seven points of the game, including back-to-back 3-pointers, to seal the deal for USU.
“It was a win with capital letters,” Finkbeiner said. “But it was a frustrating win. I was frustrated we couldn’t put two halves together, but that’s still our MO. We haven’t crossed that line yet to where we can play a full 40-minute game yet. A 20-point halftime lead was just enough.”
The Mavericks had five players score in double figures, led by Aron Garcia and Desherra Nwanguma, who both had 15 points. Laila Suleiman added 14 points, 11 of which came from the charity stripe, and a game-best 11 assists.
“It was two completely different halves,” UT Arlington head coach Samantha Morrow said. “The last 18 minutes we played like we are capable of playing. We became much more aggressive, pressed, and put a little bit of havoc on them. I thought our posts played well tonight. It is a little frustrating though as we got back to within three and then they hit two 3-pointers.”
Besides those daggers of 3-pointers, Christensen also had seven assists and six steals.
Jenna Johnson added 16 points and nine rebounds for the Aggies, who shot 48.3 percent for the game.
USU will take on Louisiana Tech (9-9, 5-3) on Saturday night in Ruston, La. The Lady Techsters are currently tied for third place in the WAC, just a game behind the Aggies.
Finkbeiner said his team’s goal is to finish the first half of league play with a 6-2 mark.
Will Schlott be available to go?
“I’ve got the gut feeling she will because there was minimal swelling post game,” Finkbeiner said. “She’s going to be tender tomorrow and we’ll see how practice goes. ... I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but I don’t think we have enough time to adjust to beat them if we don’t have her. That will be a tell-tale sign entering the game Saturday night.”