Utah State took care of business last week with two home wins.
Now the Aggie men’s basketball team heads out on the road as the 2019-20 season begins to wind down. Once again the Aggies face an opponent that is ahead of them in the Mountain West standings for the fourth straight game.
USU left Monday afternoon on a charter flight to Fort Collins, Colorado. The Aggies (19-7, 8-5 MW) face Colorado State (17-8, 8-4) Tuesday night at 7:30 in Moby Arena on State Pride Night. The game will be televised by CBS Sports Network.
“It’s been a big week for the Aggies as this will be our third game in seven days,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “Colorado State is coming off their bye and playing great basketball, winning eight of their last nine. ... They have been excellent at home and only have one league loss at home to San Diego State, who has beat everyone.”
The Aggies are currently tied with Boise State and Nevada for third place, just a half game behind Colorado State. The Broncos host Air Force and Nevada is at UNLV in other mid-week games. USU, however, is just concerned about its schedule.
“We just need to go play like we did last Wednesday and Saturday on Tuesday,” Aggie center Neemias Queta said. “We need to be ready for whoever we play. We approach every game the same way. We are just trying to win.”
USU did just that last week against UNLV (69-54) and Boise State (70-61). Those were season-low point tallies for both the Rebels and Broncos in MW action. In fact, the Aggies held Wyoming to a Mountain West season-low 45 points on Jan. 28, and Air Force to a season- and conference-low 47 points on Jan. 21.
Three of those games were at the Spectrum. USU will need to take its stingy defense on the road now.
“You have to be on point with your game,” Smith said. “We need to slow them (Rams) down and then score to put pressure on them.”
For the season, USU had held opponents to 39.3 percent shooting, which ranks 28th in the country.
The Aggies nearly held the Rams to a season low in league play as well back on Jan. 25 in the Spectrum. USU used a 13-0 run midway through the second half to bust open a close contest and went on to win, 77-61. It was the second-lowest offensive output in MW action by the Rams as they were held to 57 points by San Diego State way back in December.
However, Colorado State has been on a roll of late. Since losing to the Aggies, the Rams have won three straight. Before the loss, CSU had won five in a row. The Rams have prevailed in their last six home games and have averaged 89.5 points an outing during that stretch.
“Colorado State is very well rounded,” Smith said. “They play good defense and offensively have been playing at a very, very high level, particularly at home. ... They always have five guys on the floor that can score.”
The Rams have four players averaging double figures. Senior center Nico Carvacho is putting up a double-double, with 12.6 points and 10.8 rebounds a game. Freshman guard Isaiah Stevens leads CSU with 13.4 points and 4.5 assists an outing, while fellow freshman David Roddy (12.2) and sophomore forward Adam Thistlewood (10.9) join them in double-figure scoring.
“They put a lot of pressure on you and are a great passing team,” Smith said. “... Carvacho is so good and commands the ultimate respect. Roddy is a very good passer and can get going. Thistlewood is playing well and can shoot it. Stevens is a jet and tough in transition.”
The Aggies counter with three players averaging double digits and also a double-double player in Justin Bean, with 12.4 points and 10.4 rebounds a game. Sam Merrill leads USU with 17.8 ppg, while Queta nets 12.3.
Usually, games between the Rams and Aggies are close contests. In fact, the 16-point margin of victory earlier this year was the largest in the series since USU joined the MW prior to the 2013-14 campaign. USU has won the last four meetings and three of the last four in Fort Collins.
“They (Rams) are a much better team this year,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a heck of a test.”
The Rams are 13-0 when they make eight or more 3-pointers and 4-8 when they fall shy of that mark. The Aggies are 17-0 when they hold opponents to a field goal percentage of 42.9 percent or worse, and 2-7 when opponents exceed that percentage.
“Colorado State is a very good team and have played well at home,” Smith said. “We need to find a way to give ourselves a chance to win and then finish it.”
Merrill should go over 2,000 points for his career and move into third place on the career scoring list. Wayne Estes has 2,001 points, while Merrill is at 1,996.