Dealing with their longest losing streak in two seasons, the Aggies won’t have much time to dwell on it.
Utah State is back in action Tuesday night at Air Force. The Mountain West men’s basketball game will tip at 9 p.m. because of television. The game will be played at Clune Arena at USAF Academy, Colorado.
“We need to get through this little funk we are going through,” Aggie guard Sam Merrill said. “... Our next game is coming up quick. We don’t have a Wednesday game, but play on Tuesday against a good Air Force team.
The Falcons (7-8, 1-2 MW) are coming off a loss late Saturday as well. They were beaten at UNLV, 71-59.
USU suffered a 77-68 loss at the hands of now No. 7 San Diego State in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The Aggies lost earlier last week at UNLV, 70-53, in their worst defeat of the season.
“It is tough to play three games in seven days and coming off a tough week last week,” USU head coach Craig Smith said. “It was certainly a very emotional game on Saturday night and a late finish. You need to embrace the challenge. I’ve been happy with our preparation the past two days.”
Air Force has been tough at home and thumped UC Riverside, 105-56, in its last outing at Clune Arena. The Falcons, who are shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from 3-point range on the season, have also shot much better in home games. The 42.2 percent from beyond the arc ranks third nationally and their total field goal percentage is 20th.
“Air Force is a totally different animal than what we have played the last two games,” Smith said. “They are a very, very good offensive team. They are one of the most efficient teams in the country.”
Falcon senior guard Caleb Morris leads the league in 3-point shooting, making 56.1 percent of his shots beyond the arc. He has made 32 3-pointers on the season.
“They (Falcons) have been very good at home,” Smith said. “Their last home game they were just scorching. ... They are a much better offensive team than last year.”
In two meetings last season, the Aggies were able to keep the Falcons in check with wins of 79-62 at home and 76-62 at Clune Arena. USU has won four of the last five meetings, but the setback was at Air Force.
The Aggie coach also pointed out how veteran of a team Air Force is. There are seven Falcons that have at least two years of experience. Three seniors start with many starts under their belts.
“They are looking to get out in transition more than normal so they put a lot of pressure on you,” Smith said. “Then they run the Princeton offense with a lot of reads an back cuts. They post their guards and their bigs shoot.”
All-MW forward Lavelle Scottie leads Air Force with 14.5 points and 5.5 rebounds a game. Fellow forward Ryan Swan averages 13.5 points an outing. Rounding out a trio of Falcons in double-figure scoring is guard A.J. Walker with 12.1 ppg. Morris us just under double digits with 9.8 ppg.
“We need to have great position defense and understand their system,” Smith said. “... We need to play well on the offensive end, get in a good rhythm and play connected. I thought we did that the other night (against San Diego State) for the last 28 minutes. The first 12 we did not. This is a big road test.”
Merrill, who is not 100 percent healthy, is coming off a 26-point effort against the Aztecs. He is averaging 17.7 ppg. on the season. Joining Merrill in double-figure scoring is Justin Bean (13.8), Alphonso Anderson (10.8) and Neemias Queta (10.0). Brock Miller (9.7) and Diogo Brito (8.8) are not far off.
Bean is averaging 11.0 rebounds a game, while Queta is at 6.8 boards an outing. Queta made his third start of the season and played in just his fifth game on Saturday after missing games with two knee injuries.
“Queta was very good Saturday night,” Smith said. “His conditioning needs to get better, but he made an impact on both ends of the court.”
What is the key for the Aggies to get back to winning?
“I think we are doing all of the right things,” Queta said. “We just are not hitting shots. That’s the problem. We will snap out of it. We are taking good shots and doing everything we can.”
While they haven’t had much time to prepare for Air Force, the Aggies are trying to take a deep breath and not get caught up in having lost two straight games for a first time in nearly two years.
“Our focus is to just get a little bit better every day,” Smith said. “Let’s play one game, 15 more times. That’s what our mindset has to be.”