It has been 10 days since the Aggies took the court for a men’s basketball game.
There is bound to be some kinks to work out, which is understandable as the team did not practice together for seven days because of COVID protocols. Despite that, Utah State is excited to get back to playing games.
The Aggies (2-3) will host Northern Colorado (3-1) from the Big Sky Conference on Friday night in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Tipoff is set for 7 o’clock.
“It’s a great time for us to get back in the flow, back in action,” USU head coach Craig Smith said Thursday during a Zoom call. “We are so excited for opportunity to play tomorrow. It will be good to get back into a rhythm and play three games over the next six days. Our guys are super excited and can’t wait to get out on the floor.”
Smith has not been at a game in nearly three weeks. He tested positive for COVID and missed the BYU and College of Idaho games. Then contests against Weber State and Dixie State were canceled because of COVID protocols at USU. The coach is as excited to be going to a game as the athletes.
“I’m doing great,” Smith said. “I was very fortunate to have very mild symptoms. ... It’s very different when you have to pause and not practice or play a game. It’s kind of like coming back from Christmas break. But our guys are locked in. I think they are recharged mentally. It is different coming back. There is concern because basketball is a game of rhythm and timing.”
Friday’s game came together this week. There was some discussion over the weekend between the schools and they figured out a day to play.
“Once we lost the Weber State game, we have been working hard to find a game for later this week,” Smith said. “Northern Colorado’s head coach shot me a text asking if we had any interest in playing. I said absolutely. It’s fortunate we can get this game in.”
The Bears are as excited to find another game as the Aggies. Northern Colorado has had three games canceled so far this season. The Bears play three times this week as they lost at Colorado on Monday (81-45) and won at Denver on Wednesday (83-75).
“Both of us have lost some games, so we are excited to play,” Smith said. “Northern Colorado has been one of the top teams in the Big Sky for four or five years. ... This is a quality game for us.”
While these schools have not played each other in a real long time — neither coaching staff was alive when it last happened — they are somewhat familiar with each other. The Aggies and Bears have played each other the past two years in a closed scrimmage before the season began.
“A lot of their guys are familiar with us and our style of play and a lot of our guys are familiar with their style of play,” Smith said. “It should be a very good match up.”
Northern Colorado is led by a host of juniors as all five starters are of that class. Guard Bodie Hume, who is averaging 19.3 points and 8.5 rebounds a game. He had 21 points and nine rebounds in the win Wednesday.
“Bodie Hume is a very, very good player,” Smith said. “He was the Big Sky Freshman of the Year a couple of years ago. I know NBA scouts are looking at him. He is incredibly skilled and can really shoot the three. He puts teams in mismatches with his height (6-foot-6).”
Joining Hume in double-digit scoring is guard Daylen Kountz (15.3), a transfer from Colorado, and guard Matt Johnson (12.8). Kountz and Johnson scored 26 and 21 points, respectively, in the Bears’ last outing.
“Daylen Kountz is an uber athletic guard that is very, very talented,” Smith said. “Matt Johnson can really shoot and plays a ton of minutes. They (Bears) will try and run and get out in transition. They will run every kind of ball screen and try and exploit you with mismatches on the offensive end.”
The Aggies enter the game with four players averaging double figures in scoring. Center Neemias Queta leads the way with 14.0 a game, followed by guard Marco Anthony (13.8), guard Rollie Worster (12.4) and forward Justin Bean (12.0). Anthony missed the last game because of COVID protocols. Smith is expecting all of his athletes to be available Friday.
“It is still to be determined, but I’m hoping we are back at full strength,” Smith said.
Queta also leads USU in rebounding (8.8), assists (2.6), blocks (1.6) and is tied with Bean and Sean Bairstow in steals (1.2). Bean has had double digits in rebounds in the last two games and is averaging 7.2 boards and outing.