Off to their best start since joining the Mountain West Conference eight years ago, the Aggie men’s basketball team looks to keep the momentum going this week with two more road contests.
Utah State left for Lubbock, Texas, Tuesday afternoon. The Aggies will take on New Mexico Wednesday night in the first of a two-game series, which is being held at the Lobos new home — the Rip Griffin Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on CBSSN.
“They (Lobos) got off to a late start with practices and have been traveling all over,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “Their temporary home is now in Lubbock, Texas.”
In the midst of four games in eight days and all on the road, the Aggies (7-3, 4-0 MW) were able to get in two practices in Logan between series. USU swept Air Force last week, 83-48 and 72-53, extending its winning streak to six.
“We need to be sound and play Aggie basketball,” Smith said. “We need to cut down the turnovers and have done that with the exception of the last game. ... I feel like we have a determined group of guys”
The Lobos (3-4, 0-4) have had their struggles this season, starting with not being able to play or even practice in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They did win three non-league games by mostly big margins, but the level of competition was lacking. Since beginning league play, New Mexico has been shooting 36 percent from the field and allowing 51 percent. The Lobos have been outscored by more than 21 points a game on average.
On paper, it doesn’t look like a good match up for New Mexico. The Aggies are also double-digit favorites in the first game. Smith is not buying all of that.
“Well, when I see them (Lobos) on film, I have nightmares,” Smith said. “I am a numbers guy from some respects, but I’m not overly driven by that. We know how hard it is to win. ... We have turned it over against New Mexico the last two years. We’ve got to be better with that. When you watch them on film, they certainly get your attention.”
New Mexico did hold the lead against Nevada last Saturday with less than five minutes to play, but ended up losing 84-74. That has been the Lobos closest conference game this season. They were blown out twice at Boise State.
The Lobos do have a plus 11.2 rebound margin and average more than 10 offensive rebounds a game. That certainly will get Smith’s attention as his team hits the boards hard as well, coming in at plus 11.1 in rebound margin.
“New Mexico is a physical, rugged team that is very athletic,” Smith said. “... They throw it in to the post a lot with 74 percent of their shots from two. Then on defense it is what we’ve seen before. They are going to press on every made shot, dead ball and every made free throw. They make it very difficult on their opponents. They are No. 2 in the country in offensive rebounds. Rebounding will be a big key and handling the ball, making good decisions and not turning it over. We need to have poise and composure for 40 minutes because they are relentless with their effort.”
Senior Makuach Maluach leads the Lobos in scoring (14.9 points a game) and rebounds (6.6). The guard/forward has had big games against the Aggies in the past.
“He (Maluach) is a very good player and has caused us problems,” Smith said. “He is very consistent and dependable. He is extremely athletic and super fast.”
Wichita State transfer Rod Brown is the only other Lobo averaging double figures in scoring at 10.4 ppg. New Mexico has been going deep on their bench this season. The Aggies are expecting to see a host of Lobos.
“They play a ton of guys,” Smith said. “They are playing better every night they go out. ... This will be one of the most athletic teams we face all year. They have so many guys that are big and strong. They constantly sub to keep guys fresh and try to wear you down.”
Four USU players are averaging double figures in scoring, led by Marco Anthony with 12.8 ppg. Joining Anthony is Justin Bean (12.1), Neemias Queta (11.8) and Rollie Worster (11.2). Brock Miller, the other Aggie starter is averaging 8.7 ppg, but in league games leads USU at 13.3. Queta and Bean lead the team in rebounding at 8.7 and 8.1 boards an outing, respectively.
During his career at USU, Queta has averaged 14.6, 9.8 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and 2.2 assists against New Mexico. Bean has also had big games with his two top-rebounding outings coming against the Lobos as he grabbed 15 boards on two different occasions.
The Aggies are shooting 49.1 percent, averaging 83.3 points and 19.3 assists a game during their six-game winning streak. They are also outscoring opponents by 28.5, coming up with 8.7 steals and 5.0 blocks a game, while holding opponents to 54.8 points per game and limiting teams to 35.7 percent shooting from the floor and 27.9 percent from 3-point range. USU also has a plus 14.2 rebound margin and a plus 5.8 turnover margin.
“We are communicating a lot better and playing more connected,” Smith said.
AGGIE WOMEN POSTPONED
Due to a positive COVID-19 case within the New Mexico women’s basketball program, the two-game series between the Lobos and Utah State, originally slated for this Thursday and Saturday, has been postponed.
The rescheduled dates will be announced once finalized by the Mountain West and both institutions.