RUSTON, La. — Utah State coach Stew Morrill is usually demonstrative on the sidelines: arms waving, feet stomping and voice shouting non-stop instructions.
On Thursday night, he spent most of the game seated in his chair. There was no reason to get upset. Louisiana Tech was just too good.
The 25th-ranked Bulldogs — playing in their first game as a nationally ranked team since 1985 — easily handled Utah State 84-61 in a lopsided game that started ugly for the Aggies and got worse.
“Tech played great — the game was over early,” Morrill said. “They established the ground rules by just dominating us early and we were never really in the game. It was a thorough butt-kicking. They’re playing really well.”
The Bulldogs (25-3, 15-0 Western Athletic Conference) never left anything in doubt, taking a 15-2 lead in the opening minutes on the way to a 49-23 halftime advantage. It was a surprisingly lopsided game considering Louisiana Tech barely beat Utah State (19-8, 9-6) 51-48 in Logan, Utah, on Jan. 26.
It’s been a difficult season for Utah State, which has lost three returning starters because of injuries. Usually, the Aggies have found a way to stay competitive, but Louisiana Tech’s pressure defense and constant scoring proved too difficult to handle.
“On nights we make shots to complement our ability to defend — we’re pretty good,” Louisiana Tech coach Michael White said. “And that happened tonight at a level that we haven’t done all year.”
Brandon Gibson scored 20 points and Raheem Appleby added 15 as Louisiana Tech shot 31 of 62 (50 percent) from the field, including 11 of 21 (52.4 percent) from 3-point range.
The Bulldogs stretched their winning streak to 17 games.
Jarred Shaw and Ben Clifford both scored 14 points for Utah State. TeNale Roland added 12 points and seven rebounds.
Gibson made 8 of 11 shots from the field, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range, to lead a potent Louisiana Tech bench. The Bulldogs’ bench outscored the starters 49-35.
“They’ve got a lot of depth,” Morrill said. “They definitely looked like a top 25 team to me.”
Utah State was Louisiana Tech’s first Division I opponent in nearly two weeks and the Bulldogs looked fresh, using their full-court press to frustrate the Aggies early. A few turnovers were all the Bulldogs needed to build an early advantage — especially since almost all of their shots were falling.
Louisiana Tech shot 20 of 35 (57.9 percent) in the first half. Gibson led the Bulldogs with 12 points off the bench.
Appleby said the national ranking didn’t change his team’s focus.
Utah State has managed a decent season despite rampant injuries. The Aggies came into the season with three returning starters — Danny Berger, Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed — but none of them played Thursday because of various medical issues.
• CALIFORNIA 64, UTAH 46.: At Berkeley, Calif., Allen Crabbe had 15 points and 11 rebounds, Justin Cobbs added 12 points and seven assists, and California overcame a sluggish start to overpower Utah for its sixth straight win.
The highest scoring duo in the Pac-12 Conference helped the Golden Bears (19-9, 11-5) reel off 21 straight points to seal their longest winning streak since opening the season 6-0. They held Utah to its lowest scoring output of the season, including more than 10 minutes without a basket to go ahead by 16 points early in the second half.
Jordan Loveridge had nine points and 11 rebounds for the Utes (11-16, 3-12), who have lost three straight and five of six while struggling to find their shooting stroke. No other Utah player scored more than seven points.
Cal outshot Utah 40 percent to 29 percent.
The Utes pushed the pace and pushed the Bears around the paint at the start, getting out on the fast break on almost every possession. Dakarai Tucker took an over-the-rim lob from Brandon Taylor and finished for a two-handed slam, part of a highlight-filled run that put Utah ahead by eight.
After Loveridge’s jumper put Utah ahead 24-19 with 4:17 left in the half, everything changed.
The Bears began being the bruising bullies in the paint. The tough defense cooled off Utah’s streaky shooters, and the Utes completely lost their calm-and-collected demeanor.
The Utes were 0 of 9 with five turnovers during the drought. Going back to a horrendous second half in a 60-50 loss at Colorado last Thursday, Utah is 25 of 84 from the floor in its last 60 minutes.