It seems like the Aggies just get going and then they are taking a break.
The 2020-21 college basketball season has been interesting so far and will most definitely continue to be a roller coaster ride with all it takes to navigate being safe because of COVID-19. The Utah State men have had three breaks, and the season is barely a month old.
The latest pause was for Christmas. After taking a few days off following a second blowout against San Jose State last Wednesday, the Aggies are back practicing in anticipation of a two-game series at Mountain West Conference foe Air Force that is scheduled to begin on New Year’s Eve afternoon at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
“I’ve always been a big fan if guys can go home, I want them to go home (for Christmas),” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “This year is a little different because it feels like this is our third Christmas break. ... I think there will be a little more normalcy in terms of now we are in league play. Now we are going to make a run in Mountain West Conference play.”
The Aggies (5-3, 2-0 MW) take a four-game winning streak against the Falcons (3-3, 1-1). A year ago USU lost at Air Force early in the conference season, 79-60.
“We need to be ready to go from the get go,” Aggie center Neemias Queta said. “That has been a big emphasis this year. ... We need to be ready for Air Force because they are a really good team. We need to take care of business at Air Force.”
“We did not fare well at their (Falcons) place last year,” Smith said. “... It’s always a very difficult place to play in Clune Arena.”
That will especially be crucial this season with the two-game series’ format. USU will be playing two games at Air Force.
“It’s different for sure,” Queta said. “I don’t think anybody has dealt with this (before this season) where you play two games against the same team in the space of three days. I feel like it’s going to be a battle of the mindsets. Whoever has the mindset to come in every day ready to play no matter whaat happened the game before. You got to be ready to play every day and give it your best.”
Over the last five games USU has played much better after a rough start against good competition at the tournament in South Dakota. In both games against San Jose State last week Smith was able to use his whole bench.
“It’s a fine line because you want Queta and (Justin) Bean and Marco (Anthony) and Brock (Miller) to get a bunch of reps and playing to stay in a rhythm and groove,” Smith said. “At the same time, you’re trying to give young guys valuable playing experience. I do feel we have the deepest bench since we’ve been here. Maybe that hasn’t shown yet, but we have some talented guys on this team.
“... (Sean) Bairstow is not a new guy but I thought he found his niche a little bit and got back into a rhythm. I thought (Steven) Ashworth got into a rhythm. Max Shulga is going to be a very good player. I thought (Szymon) Zapala and (Trevin) Dorius were able to show some different things and get into a groove.”
Queta was named the America First Credit Union USU Student-Athlete of the week on Monday. Last week the junior averaged 8.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 6.0 blocks per game in just 17.5 minutes per game in the two wins against the Spartans. Queta shot 58.3 percent (7 of 12) from the floor and 60.0 percent (3 of 5) at the free throw line.
“It’s hard to put up those kind of numbers in that kind of time,” Smith said. “Queta and Bean played determined and aggressive. Queta’s line was really good when you combine the two games. He didn’t have one turnover, had nine assists and 12 blocked shots and really anchored us on both sides of the floor.
“... The veterans know what it takes and have to bring it every night. Those guys have been in those battles. They know what it takes to win at this level. Some of these other guys don’t know yet. They think they know, but they don’t know. The veteran guys have got to lead the way for us and they did to get us off to a 2-0 start in Mountain West play.”
Queta has recorded 21 blocks this season, which is the 12th-most in the NCAA and tops the Mountain West.
“I need to understand what the team needs from me and what the game is going to allow me to do,” Queta said. “I feel like I’m a really good passer. I don’t want to be selfish and I always want to try and make the right play. I try to do what is best for the team. If I can score, I will score, but if not I will pass it to my teammates.”
USU has two of the top rebounders in the league so far this season in Queta and Bean. Queta begins the week in second with 8.9 boards an outing, while Bean is third with 8.8 a game.
Freshman guard Rollie Worster and Bean are third and fourth in the MW in free throw percentage. Worster has made 23 of 25 foul shots for 92 percent, while Bean is 22 of 25 for 88 percent.
Worster is tied for 10th in assists in the MW with 3.3 a contest.
MW Player of the Week
Boise State guard Derrick Alston Jr. was singled out by the league for his efforts in a Bronco sweep of New Mexico last year. Boise State won both games at home in convincing fashion, 77-53 and 89-52.
The junior averaged 21.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals in the two games last week, while shooting 77.0 percent (17 of 22) from the floor and 75.0 percent (6 of 8) from the 3-point line.