With not much time to prepare, at least the Aggies have some momentum on their side going into Friday nights Mountain West Conference game at Nevada.
The Wolf Pack have the same amount of time, but did play on the road Tuesday and suffered their first league loss. Utah State and Nevada will face one another at the Lawlor Events Center. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. and will be televised on FS1.
“It’s going to be a tough matchup for us, but we are excited for the challenge,” USU head coach Ryan Odom said Thursday before the team departed for Reno, Nevada. “... This is a big game. The next one is huge every time. For us, we want to put our best foot forward and have a great effort.”
The Aggies (14-3, 3-1 MW) are coming off a solid outing at home against injury-plagued Wyoming. USU led for more than 39 minutes of the game and was up by 25 at one point in the 83-63 victory against the Cowboys. It was a nice bounce back effort by the Aggies after one of their worst outings of the season at Boise State last Saturday, a 82-59 loss.
“Conference play on the road is tough in most conferences and especially the Mountain West,” Odom said. “We want to see the discipline, the execution, the composure, the physicality and we want to see the connectivity of our team.”
Now USU will be looking to take that same energy on the road in an important conference showdown between two of the best teams in the MW.
“All games are big in the Mountain West,” Odom said. “And this one certainly qualifies as one of those big ones. Nevada is playing really well.”
The Aggies won in Reno last year, 78-49. USU got in front and just kept its foot to the gas pedal. Nevada (14-4, 4-1) did come to Logan two weeks later and leave victorious, 85-72. Both teams have new personnel and lost some big-time athletes from a year ago.
“As we learned with Weber (State), last year is last year and this year is this year,” Odom said. “You’ve got to play the game. They certainly avenged that loss here in the Spectrum after we beat them down there. It’s conference play. It is a factor where you are playing, but also who you are playing at the time you are actually playing them. What’s going on with their team. Our focus is on us and doing our best to play our best. … It was great we won there last year, but it doesn’t guarantee us anything this year. They remember that too.”
The Wolf Pack lost at San Diego State on Tuesday, 74-65. Nevada was down by 22 points at one point, but was able to rally and get within single digits by the final horn. Before losing to the Aztecs, the Wolf Pack had MW wins against Boise State (74-72), Colorado State (80-69), at Air Force (75-69) and at San Jose State (67-40), where they scored 25 unanswered points to put that game away.
“Nevada is playing great ball,” Odom said. “They (Wolf Pack) have great size from their point guard all the way to their center. They have good shooters, good drivers, good passers. Their defense is much improved and obviously they have been very good at home.”
There are two common opponents Nevada and USU played before starting league action. The Aggies beat Loyola Marymount (79-67) and Utah Tech (86-81). The Wolf Pack lost to Loyola Marymount (64-52) and beat Utah Tech (84-71).
Nevada is perfect at the Lawlor Events Center this season, heading into Friday’s game with an 8-0 record. Three players average double figures in scoring in Jared Lucas (16.7 points per game), Kenan Blackshear (14.0) and Will Baker (12.3). Freshman Nick Davidson came off the bench to lead the Wolf Pack at San Diego State with 17 points and is averaging 8.6 on the season. Fellow reserve K.J. Hymas is averaging 9.5 ppg, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks an outing. Freshman Darrion Williams leads the team on the boards with 7.2 a game.
“He (Lucas) wants to score, he is wired to score,” Odom said. “He did that at Oregon State and is now doing that at Nevada. He is just a really good player. We have to be attached to him and have help with him without giving up easy baskets.
“... The two freshmen (Williams and Davidson) are really good additions to their team. They really help their team. … They can really get it going and make shots when Lucas gets it going, Blackshear gets to the basket and they make timely threes.”
Keeping Nevada off the free throw line will be a big key. The Wolf Pack shoots 79.3 percent from the charity stripe and gets there nearly 18 times a game. The 79.3 percent ranks seventh best in the country.
“They (Wolf Pack) get there (foul line) a lot and shoot it really, really well,” Odom said. “You can not foul them. … They post up and drive the ball hard.”
The Aggies are one of 10 teams in the country with five players averaging double figures in the scoring department. Steven Ashworth, who will get the start again with point guard Rylan Jones still out with an injury, is leading the team with 15.6 ppg. Joining Ashworth is Taylor Funk (14.1), Max Shulga (12.2), Dan Akin (12.1) and Sean Bairstow (10.9).
Akin comes off the bench and also leads the team in rebounding with 7.4 a game. Shulga has slipped ahead of Ashworth in leading in assists with 4.4 per game.
This will be the third game in seven days for USU. The Aggies will be playing two games a week until the end of February.
“We have not had a true day off since we left for Hawaii to be honest,” Odom said. “We’ve had days off, but we’ve been traveling. It’s part of playing high-level, Division I college basketball. You have to be up for it and understanding that your body is going to be tired and we have to account for that as coaches too.”