It’s been awhile since the Aggie men’s basketball team has had a game.
Nearly two weeks to be more precise.
When Utah State returns to action Wednesday night in the Gem State, there will be a lot riding on the outcome. The Aggies and Broncos will be fighting it out for first place in the Mountain West Conference standings as the season winds down.
Of course USU head coach Craig Smith is trying to approach a two-game series with Boise State as just two more games on the schedule. But there is a lot on the line as these two square off at Extra Mile Arena at 7 p.m. Wednesday night. The game will be televised by CBS Sports Net.
“It’s two very good teams playing and it all counts,” said Smith during press conference Tuesday before the team left for Boise, Idaho. “If we had lost a game to San Diego State or New Mexico, we wouldn’t be in this position. They (games) all count the same. I know it’s not sexy, but it’s the facts. These games can have a lot of postseason ramifications, can mean a lot for the regular season and seeding, but nobody has a crystal ball and knows how many more games we are even going to get in. At the end of the day, we are going to try and put our best foot forward and play our best game against Boise in game one and hopefully we can get a game two.”
Getting the opportunity to resume the season after having three games postponed is a positive that the Aggie coach is dwelling on. USU (14-5, 11-2 MW) had a game at Fresno State and two home contests with Wyoming called off for “health concerns.”
“Our guys have done a good job of staying level headed, never get too high, never get too low,” Smith said. “... We’ve told our guys all year, every day is a blessing and never take the opportunity to play for granted. You just don’t know.”
The coach was happy to report Tuesday afternoon that COVID-19 tests given to the USU team and the Boise State (16-4, 12-3) team all came back negative.
“We are so excited to play,” Smith said. “We’ve had one game in 22 days. It’s felt like training camp back in October. We are excited for the opportunity to play a very good Boise State team.”
Smith’s future with the Aggies was also discussed Tuesday during the press conference. USU Athletics Director John Hartwell had told a local radio show that their was a contract extension given to Smith. The university has not announced it or sent out any information on the new contract.
“I think it was finalized in November or December,” Smith said. “After this year, it will be five more years in terms of the contract. We’re excited about it. We love Utah State. It’s been an amazing place for my family. ... We love it here, and it’s a tremendous league. We are surrounded by amazing people. We are excited to continue this journey at Utah State.”
While the coach addressed many subjects Tuesday, he was mostly concerned with having his team ready to play an “excellent” Boise State team.
“They are very well coached and have incredible talent,” Smith said of the Broncos. “They are as deep a team as we’ve played all year. They are as versatile of a team as you will find in the whole country. They have a lot of skilled guys that can put a lot of pressure on you.”
During the long time between games, the Aggies were never on quarantine. They have been practicing and preparing to resume the season. They have also been studying the Broncos, including past games against BSU. USU has won four of the last four meetings with the Broncos, but have lost four of the last five in Boise. In fact, the last two games in Extra Mile Arena have gone to overtime with each team winning a game. The average margin of victory in games played in Boise during the MW era has been just 3.7 points.
“Both teams have been good the last two years,” Smith said. “Two years ago we were fortunate to get it to overtime and found a way to win. Last year they were able to do that. That’s basketball.”
For the first time this season, Boise State will allow fans. It was announced Tuesday that 900 would be allowed in. This will be the first time USU has played an opponent with fans.
“They (Broncos) will be pumped and excited,” Smith said. “It should be an excited, spirited atmosphere.”
The Broncos are a perfect 9-0 at home this season. They set a school record earlier with 13 straight wins, but then dropped three of four. Boise State swept a hard fought series with UNLV last week, which made head coach Leon Rice the winningest coach at the school with 214 wins in 11 seasons.
Several times Smith brought up how deep the Broncos were. They normally play nine players. Derrick Alston, the MW Preseason Player of the Year, leads BSU in scoring with 17.0 points a game. Alston, Abu Kigab, RayJ Dennis and Mladen Armus have started all 20 games this season. Marcus Shaver Jr. has been the fifth starter of late. Kigab and Shaver average double digits in scoring at 12.8 and 11.6 ppg., respectively. Armus is the top rebounder at 7.8 each outing, while Dennis has the most assists with 3.1 per game. Emmanuel Akot and Devonaire Doutrive have added 8.7 and 8.5 ppg. off the bench, respectively.
“Derrick Alston has taken his game to a different level, and Kigab is one of the most improved players in the league,” Smith said. “Shavers can get it going and was an elite scorer at Portland. ... There is a reason they have the No. 1 offense in the MW in points scored and are No. 2 in field goal percentage.”
The Aggies counter with a very balanced scoring attack with Neemias Queta (12.5), Marco Anthony (11.2), Justin Bean (10.1), Brock Miller (9.8), Rollie Worster (9.6), Steven Ashworth (6.8) and Alphonso Anderson (6.1). Queta and Bean are the top rebounders with 9.1 and 7.3 a game. Worster and Queta lead the team in assists with 3.4 and 2.9, respectively.