With nine games left in the regular season, the Aggie men’s basketball team has five home contests and four road games in league play.
Four of the five home games are against teams at the top or near the top of the Mountain West Conference standings. Utah State can make a move if it can take care of business at home, and that begins Wednesday night.
The Aggies welcome New Mexico to the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The Lobos were nationally ranked last week, but dropped out of the Top 25 on Monday after a double overtime loss at Nevada. Tipoff Wednesday night is set for 8:30 and is being televised on FS1.
“This is obviously a big game for both teams,” USU head coach Ryan Odom said Tuesday after practice. “They are all big in conference play.”
The Lobos (19-3, 6-3) are tied with the Aggies (17-5, 6-3) and Nevada (16-6, 6-3) for third place in the MW. The trio are one game out of second and two out of first. The Wolf Pack hosted first-place No. 22 San Diego State (17-4, 8-1) on Tuesday.
Wednesday night is Spectrum Magic Night with students getting T-shirts the color of the seats. Playing in front of boisterous fans is always important, but the players still have to show up as the coach said during an interview Tuesday.
“Like I’ve told the players, it’s so important that we have this home court advantage and we’ve gotten off to a great start this season,” Odom said. “We’ve got a big stretch here at home with some great competition. … The bottom line is it comes down to the two teams on the court. The players on the court, the decisions made and how you play when that ball is tipped up. You have to play. The players will decide. It doesn’t mean the fans won’t have an impact with the noise. That is extremely important.”
Both USU and New Mexico bounced back from losses earlier last week to win on the weekend. The Aggies won at Fresno State, 70-53, while the Lobos held off Air Force in Albuquerque, 81-73.
After being the last undefeated Division I team in the country at 14-0, the Lobos lost back-to-back conference games in early January. They fell at Fresno State (71-67) and at home to UNLV (84-77). New Mexico has won four of its last five games.
“They are a really talented team that is well coached,” Odom said. “They got off to an amazing start this season. … Their defense is really good and they are hard to stop in transition. We know what we are up against and will have to play well to win.”
Recently the Aggies have had the Lobos number. USU has won the last five meetings with New Mexico and eight of the last nine.
The Lobos brought back all-league guards Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. from last season and added transfer forwards Morris Udeze (Wichita State) and Josiah Allick (Kansas City). The 6-foot-8 forwards have certainly given New Mexico some size and rebounding ability. Udeze leads the Lobos with 8.5 boards an outing, while Allick grabs 8.3 a game.
“The two additions (Udeze and Allick) really help their team,” Odom said. “Udeze has really helped them in the post, has helped them defensively, has helped them offensively around the rim. He gives them a go-to guy there and is physical. … Allick is also a big reason for their success. He is a physical player, an enforcer by the rim. He knows his role and is relentless on the glass. He is a tough matchup for anybody.”
Mashburn leads the Lobos in scoring with 19.5 points per game. House nets 17.4 ppg and dishes out 4.8 assists a game. Udeze is the third Lobo to average double digits at 15.7 ppg. Allick averages 8.3 ppg, while guard KJ Jenkins comes off the bench to score 8.1 a game.
“Mashburn and House are having incredible seasons,” Odom said. “They feed off of one another. They play both sides well.”
House also comes up with 2.9 steals a game. The Aggies will have to be aware of the guard at all times.
“He has the freedom from the coaching staff to go for it and be who he is,” Odom said of House on defense. “He is really dangerous. … He is just really good at anticipating what’s going to happen.”
New Mexico averages 82.4 points a game, which ranks 14th nationally. The Lobos are 10th in the country in field goal percentage at 49.1 percent.
“They like to run in transition, but they run an offense,” Odom said of the Lobos. “They have some really good plays. They play well together. Transition defense is a big key to the game, certainly on our side of the ball, and I’m sure it is for them too.”
Unlike many teams in the MW, New Mexico does not rely on 3-point shooting and in fact does not shoot a lot from outside. The Lobos drive and pull-up, plus get to the foul line.
“Mashburn is the elite pull-up player in the country,” Odom said. “He has the best pull-up game around. It’s unique in our game nowadays. You see guys getting all the way to the basket and shooting threes. … There is not much you can do about his (Mashburn) shot. He’s just really good at that shot.
“Then you have House getting to the basket, finishing for himself and making really big shots. He has really improved in his decision making around the basket. He finds the big guys for easy ones. You really need to be mindful of that.”
The Aggies enter Wednesday night’s game 26th nationally in scoring at 79.9 points a game and 18th in field goal percentage at 48.6 percent. USU continues to lead the country in 3-point field goal percentage at 41.8 percent and is 13th in assists at 17.3.
Five Aggies are averaging double digits in scoring — one team of seven in the nation. Steven Ashworth leads the way with 15.3, followed by Taylor Funk (14.3), Dan Akin (12.5), Max Shulga (11.4) and Sean Bairstow (10.7).
To play with the Lobos, the Aggies will need to achieve some goals.
“We need to take care of the ball, set our offense, get quality looks each and every time down and limit our turnovers,” Odom said. “Defensively, we’ve got to control the glass, make sure the shots they are taking are contested and be in position to be ready to block out.
“We are not going to shut these guys out. They are good.”
Welcome to the discussion.
We welcome comments, however there are some guidelines:
Keep it Clean: Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexual language. Don't Threaten: Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated. Be Truthful: Don't lie about anyone or anything. Be Nice: No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading. Be Proactive: Report abusive posts and don’t engage with trolls. Share with Us: Tell us your personal accounts and the history behind articles.