With some schools ready to be done with the regular season and turn their attention to the conference tournament, the Aggies are embracing getting to play another game before heading to Las Vegas next week.
The timing is not ideal having played Thursday night and then having to go on the road, but Utah State is not complaining. The Aggies face Fresno State Saturday night in a Mountain West Conference make-up game that will mark the end of the regular season. Tipoff at the Save Mart Center is at 9 p.m. and the game will be televised on FS1.
“We are excited to play,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “At this point, we are excited to be playing games. We need to finish off the conference season right. We hope to keep some momentum going as we finish the regular season and head into conference tournament play.”
Back on Feb. 4, the Aggies (17-7, 14-4 MW) beat the Bulldogs (11-10, 9-10), 69-53. USU broke a tight game open in the second half. The two were supposed to play two days later, but the contest was postponed because of COVID protocols within the USU team.
In the first meeting, the Aggies shot 50 percent from the field while holding the Bulldogs to 37 percent. A trio of USU players reached double figures in scoring in Neemias Queta (14), Alphonso Anderson (13) and Steven Ashworth (10). Fresno State was led by Christian Gray with nine points.
The Bulldogs held a one-point lead midway through the first half, but by halftime the Aggies were up 33-29. USU led by as many as 20 in the second half.
“Fresno is athletic and has good size,” Smith said. “They rolled out two 7-footers against us at one time last time. They have size and length. ... The first time we played them, we settled in that second half and played really well.”
Like USU, Fresno State has three 7-footers. The Aggie big men enjoyed going against some fellow 7-footers. Trevin Dorius came off the bench in the first game for USU and finished with nine points, five rebounds and two steals when Queta rolled an ankle.
“We don’t have as much time to prepare for them, but also we have the first game to remember,” Queta said of the Bulldogs. “We did a pretty good job of defending their big men. We didn’t let them get going, which will be a key on Saturday.”
Orlando Robinson, a 7-foot sophomore, leads the Bulldogs with 14.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists a game. Guard Deon Stroud adds 12.4 points a game.
“Orlando Robinson is a dynamic player and definitely an NBA prospect,” Smith said. “He is so versatile and skilled. He can shoot threes and score it inside. He does a lot of things for them.
“Stroud has taken his game to a different level than it was a month ago. He is an electric, electric athlete that can really get it going.”
The Aggies have won eight of the last nine meetings against the Bulldogs, including four in a row in Fresno, California. However, Fresno State has been playing much better of late. The Bulldogs certainly have the attention of USU with their 67-64 win at Boise State on Tuesday night.
“Fresno State has been playing very, very well,” Smith said. “They are playing much, much better. They are shooting the ball better, not turning it over as much. ... We are going to have to play well. They are obviously coming off a big win at Boise State.”
The Aggies have won three in a row heading to Fresno. They swept Nevada and beat Wyoming on Thursday night.
USU has been dealing with some lineup changes with injuries to Rollie Worster and Brock Miller. Worster returned to action on Sunday against Nevada and started Thursday when Miller missed the game. Alphonso Anderson has started the last three games and averaged 9.3 points a game.
“Alphonso has been playing the best basketball of his career,” Smith said. “He is playing dynamite. He has been such a good leader and has an amazing voice and has really taken over. He has earned that starting spot. I like the way he is playing.”
Miller is doubtful for Saturday’s game. His absence has taken getting used to as he has been a big part of the team on both ends of the court.
“Brock is a veteran, Brock is a starter, Brock is a team guy,” Aggie guard Steven Ashworth said. “Losing those things on the floor was definitely different for us. He was still there on the bench supporting us and talking guys through situations. He stretches the floor with how deadly he is from three, and then his length on defense to contest some of those shooters is something we miss. Hopefully, he will recover and join us later this season.”
Queta continues to lead the Aggies with 14.8 points and 9.9 rebounds a game. Justin Bean is right behind Queta with 11.2 points and 7.6 rebounds an outing. That duo have had double-doubles in the last three games — Queta in five straight. Over the last five games Queta is averaging 23.6 points, 12.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.6 blocks and 1.2 steals a game.
Marco Anthony, who usually draws the toughest defensive assignment for a guard, has been also scoring double figures at 10.3 points a game. Worster averages 3.5 assists a game to lead the team.
In conference games, Queta averages 15.5 points and 10.3 rebounds. Bean is at 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds. Miller is averaging 10.3 ppg. in MW action.