After not play a game in 10 days, the Aggies began a stretch last Friday of three games in six days.
It began on a good note, and Utah State plans on gaining some momentum as the next two games just happen to be against a conference foe. The Aggies (3-3) begin Mountain West Conference action Monday night in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum by hosting San Jose State (1-2). Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
“We are excited to be playing again; our guys are just excited to play again,” USU head coach Craig Smith said Sunday in a Zoom press conference. “... I really like the place we are at mentally and physically. We seem to be in a good spot overall.”
In a new format for this year only because of COVID-19, conference play will consist of a two-game series to cut down on travel. USU will host five MW teams and travel to the remaining five. So, Monday marks the first game against the Spartans. The two will turn around and play again Wednesday evening in the Spectrum.
“Tomorrow feels like normal,” Smith said. “It is going to be different. You have to guard against human nature, whether you win or lose. You need learn from the first game and then almost have amnesia to move on to the next game. ... I know other teams that have done this already this season, that the second game has been very different than the first night.”
San Jose State is a familiar opponent for conference openers for the Aggies. Since joining the MW eight years ago, this will be the fifth time USU has taken on the Spartans in its first league game.
Playing in Logan can’t be a good thing for SJSU. USU has won the last 28 games these two have played in the Spectrum
During the layoff the Aggies had two games canceled and were without Smith for two games. The Spartans have had four games canceled this season, including a scheduled contest last Friday against Santa Clara.
“It was tough,” USU forward Justin Bean said of the layoff. “It was really good to have coach Smith back. It gave us some energy. Now we want to keep things rolling.”
The Aggies have struggled a bit to get their offense running, but been solid on defense in the last four outings. Smith praised the team after Friday’s 63-50 win against Northern Colorado and again on Sunday. Bean knows that to be successful, it begins on the defensive end.
“It’s no secret that the last couple of years in the Mountain West, San Diego State and us have been the two best teams defensively,” Bean said. “It’s shown in how we play. ... We need to play our game, especially on the defensive end.”
“Our defense the other night was fantastic,” Smith said. “They (Bears) made some shots at the end of the shot clock. ... But I thought we really defended against a good offensive team at a high level. Our communication is getting better and better in practice.”
Senior guard Richard Washington leads the Spartans with 26.3 points — third best average in the nation — and 6.3 rebounds a game. He is coming off a 24-point effort against Cal Poly in a 73-71 loss on Dec. 13.
“They (Spartans) are a team that can score in bunches, and are led by Richard Washington,” Smith said. “He had some very big games for them last year. He is a lefty that scores at every level. He shoots 20 shots a game and 10 of those are threes, yet he has the ability to get to the line seven times a game.”
Joining Washington in double-figure scoring is guards Seneca Knight (13.0) and Omari Moore (12.3). That duo leads SJSU in rebounding with 7.0 boards an outing. Moore is also averaging 3.0 assists and 2.0 blocked shots a game.
“Seneca Knight is a returning all-league guy,” Smith said. “He has a bunch of 20-point games. When you have two guys (Washington and Knight) that can get it going, it puts a lot of pressure on you. ... They have a lot of guys that can shoot and put the ball in the hole.”
The Aggies counter with four players averaging double digits in points on the season. Guard Marco Anthony leads the team with 14.8 ppg. Center Neemias Queta (12.7), guard Rollie Worster (12.3) and Bean (12.0) are right behind. Queta and Bean lead on the boards with 8.5 and 7.8, respectively. Worster and Queta are tops in assists with 2.7 an outing.
“Any time you have a new team with a lot of young guys everybody is trying to figure things out,” Smith said. “I feel we have played very, very connected the last four games defensively. We are showing a lot of signs offensively, but we are not quiet there on that end.”