This kind of performance is what Utah State has been waiting for all season long.
Devyn Christensen had a monster first half, Franny Vaaulu scored 12 points off the bench and the Aggies cruised to an 85-69 victory over Denver in a Western Athletic Conference women’s basketball game Saturday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
“We’ve been practicing so well and we haven’t been showing it in the games lately, but tonight was one of those days where it just clicked,” USU guard Jennifer Schlott said. “Everything clicked.”
It sure did for Schlott, who had 15 points, a career-high tying nine assists and six rebounds as the Aggies (8-10, 5-2 WAC) won their fifth straight game at home.
“After the game I told the girls, ‘This is who we are and this is the vision we had for you,’” USU head coach Jerry Finkbeiner said. “We’re really good in practice and this is the team we see in practice almost every day and it finally translated to when the lights are on and the referees are here.”
Christensen led all scorers in the game with 25 points on 8 of 16 shooting from the field, including 5 of 10 from 3-point range. She also had three assists and three steals.
The senior from Caldwell, Idaho, did most of her damage in the first half, scoring 23 points on 8 of 12 shooting.
“That was more me, more of how I play and more my rhythm and just letting the offense come, taking good shots and not forcing anything,” Christensen said. “There were a couple of times where I wanted to force something, but I let that go and let the offense keep working around.
“Then when I got my confidence and starting hitting some shots, it was heat-check time kind of, so I hit a few more and went into the half. I kind of cooled down a little bit and in the second half, I forced the issue a little bit more and I shouldn’t have done that.”
Vaaulu shot a perfect 6 for 6 from the field. She also blocked a team-high three shots and grabbed a couple of rebounds.
“It’s good to have Devyn Christensen and Franny play well,” Finkbeiner said. “They haven’t played well together as a tandem in a long time. ... When we have Franny play the way she did and Devyn play the way she did, we’re a pretty good team.”
Kailey Edwards and Michaela Neuhaus scored 18 points apiece for the Pioneers (8-11, 3-5), who were only down 21-15 with less than nine minutes to go in the first half.
That’s when Christensen took over.
Christensen scored 21 of the Aggies’ final 30 points in the half, helping USU open up a 20-point cushion at one time before settling for a 51-33 lead at the break.
“The first half was big for us because we got them on the ropes and ... kind of opened up the game,” Christensen said. “I was glad that I was finally able to hit some shots because when I’m hitting those shots, our team is a lot more successful. In the past couple of games I’ve struggled.”
In the Aggies’ previous two games, Christensen had shot a combined 10 for 42, including a dismal 0 for 15 from beyond the arc.
“It was frustrating, but I’ve gotten back in the gym and worked with my coaches on technique and gotten back to the basics,” Christensen said. “That was good for me this week, these last couple of days, to kind of clear my head.
“Coach Fink is very supportive and I was kind of frustrated with the way things had been going. But he was on board and we’re on the same page, so it was good today. I just played with a clear mind and didn’t second-guess anything, which made a big difference.”
What did Schlott see out of Christensen?
“I think she was just more confident,” Schlott said. “That’s pretty much it. She was feeling it, so it was good for us.”
In building their 18-point lead at the break, the Aggies shot a sizzling 63.3 percent in the first half.
“You have to give Utah State credit for the first 20 minutes, because they came out shooting the lights out,” Denver head coach Kerry Cremeans said. “But I'm not proud of our effort defensively in the first half, and that will be corrected.”
The Pioneers didn’t fare much better defensively in the second half. USU shot 48.0 percent during the final 20 minutes and finished the game with a 56.4 percent clip.
“We shot really good tonight,” Schlott said. “It was just one of those nights where everything was going in.”
Desiree Hunter and Emiko Smith chipped in 10 points apiece for Denver, which only shot 33.8 percent on the night and committed 16 turnovers, which led to 17 points by the Aggies.
“I think Denver is a pretty good team,” Finkbeiner said. “... We played well and made them not look as good as they really are. It just kind of came together for us tonight.
“... The reason why the defense looked good tonight is because we were making shots offensively and there wasn’t any pressure on our defense, so we can take a few more chances and get up and play a little bit harder. Our track record has been is our offense will go on so many droughts that our defense looks bad, so tonight, both sides of the floor are going to be graded very high.”
Jenna Johnson was the fourth Aggie to score in double figures as she had 15 points, to go along with eight rebounds and five assists.
USU has now won six of its last eight games.