Only twice during the Mountain West Conference portion of the schedule the Aggies play two games at home.
Utah State men’s head basketball coach Ryan Odom is aware of how important these homestands are. The Aggies wrap up the first two-game homestand Saturday afternoon when San Jose State visits the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Tipoff is set for 4 o’clock.
“I told the team the other day these (homestands) are like gold and we only have two of these the whole year in conference,” Odom said after practice on Friday. “We’ve got to make sure that we take advantage of these.”
Another fact the Aggies (15-4, 4-2 MW) are aware of is how improved the Spartans (12-7, 3-3) are. San Jose State gave USU a good game for a half in each contest last year before big second halves by the Aggies put the game out of reach in 78-62 and 75-52 victories.
“San Jose State is a really good team, a really well-coached team,” Odom said. “They had a great start to the season and have done well in conference so far.”
History is definitely on USU’s side. The Aggies have won the last eight games against SJSU and have not lost at home to the Spartans since Feb. 25, 1982 — a stretch of 29 games. Odom doesn’t want to hear any of that.
“You have to approach every game in the same manner,” Odom said. “We have to be the aggressor and attack in every game that we play on offense and defense. We can’t worry about what’s happened in the past. If you get caught up in that, you are going down a bad wormhole there. For us, it’s all about the next game and next opportunity for us to prove we are a pretty good team. We know they (Spartans) will challenge us.”
The Spartans have wins against UNLV in overtime (75-72), at Colorado State (78-70) and over Fresno State (74-64). They lost on a last second shot at Boise State, 67-64. SJSU is coming off a 77-57 setback at New Mexico on Tuesday and also have a big loss at home to Nevada (67-40).
“They have played well outside of the Nevada game,” Odom said. “They would probably like to have that one back.”
Just one Spartan averages double figures, but guard Omari Moore can give teams fits. The 6-foot-6 junior is coming off a 24-point, 4-rebound, 5-assist game at New Mexico. On the season, he is averaging 15.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists an outing.
“Moore is one of the best guards in the league,” Odom said. “... He has a complete game. He is really good at getting to the basket and finishing at the rim. He gets fouled. He gets big-time assists. He can shoot off the bounce behind the three. He is just a good player and a future pro. ... He has an NBA-type game.”
One thing that has helped SJSU be more competitive this year is being mostly healthy. The same five players have started all 19 games this season. Only reserve guard Myron Amey Jr., who is used in the rotation, has missed games with an ankle injury. Amey played well against USU last year.
“They have dodged that (injuries to a starter) and are playing very confident at home and on the road,” Odom said.
The Spartans have good size with 7-foot center Ibrahima Diallo, a transfer from Ohio State. Diallo is averaging 6.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots a game.
“They have size and shooting,” Odom said of the Spartans. “They are good on defense. We will have our hands full. We’ve got to be ready to play.”
Alvaro Cardenas and Sage Tolbert III are averaging 9.8 and 9.1 points a game, respectively. Tolbert leads the team in rebounding with 7.5 a game.
“A big focus of theirs is they want to control the glass,” Odom said. “They don’t want to get outhustled for rebounds. That certainly will be a major factor tomorrow.”
The Aggies come into Saturday’s game off a 75-71 win against UNLV where they had to make some plays down the stretch for the victory.
“Good teams become great by looking at the mirror and recognizing opportunities to become a little bit better,” Aggie guard Steven Ashworth said. “We talk all the time about every possession matters. We need to make sure and focus on every possession.”
Ashworth continues to lead the Aggies in scoring with 15.5 ppg. USU is one of 14 teams in the country with five players averaging double figures. Joining Ashworth is Taylor Funk (14.5), Max Shulga (11.8), Dan Akin (11.7) and Sean Bairstow (10.8). USU center Trevin Dorius has been more assertive on offense of late, reaching double digits in back-to-back games for the first time in his career with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Akin, who comes off the bench, is the top rebounder with 7.4 a game. Shulga is one assist ahead of Ashworth on the season as they average 4.5 an outing.
Starting point guard Rylan Jones was at practice Friday, but did not participate in drills. Forward Zee Hamoda, who missed the last game with an illness, practiced and is expected to play off the bench Saturday.
The last two games have had some loud crowds and not just the students. That has not gone unnoticed.
“You always know the HURD is going to be there in that corner, bringing it every game,” Ashworth said. “The question was what is the community going to bring? Man, they have been bringing it this year, and it’s super special to be a part of it. Jaycee Carroll has said the buzz is starting in the community and people are showing up. He mentioned it is special place when that happens.”