There are a lot of factors that would point to an Aggie win Friday night in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
First off, once again No. 17 Utah State is double-digit favorites as it hosts in-state rival Weber State. Tipoff is set for 7 o’clock.
The Aggies (1-0) have won 10 of the last 11 meetings in the Spectrum with the Wildcats, who will be playing their first regular season game of the 2019-20 campaign. Weber State is most likely going to be without Preseason Big Sky Conference Player of the Year Jerrick Harding. USU was able to get some of the first-game jitters out earlier in the week in a win over Montana State, 81-73.
While many things stack up in the Aggies’ favor, USU head coach Craig Smith is not about to overlook the Wildcats. In fact, the last time Weber State came to town, the Wildcats left with a 77-71 win.
“Weber State is a very well coached team, has a great history and great tradition,” Smith said Thursday after practice. “... It’s a great program. When you have an in-state rivalry game, every game is going to be tight. We need to be ready for everything. They are great defensively and just don’t make a whole lot of mistakes.”
Harding, a senior guard that has been singled out as a mid-major player to watch this season, did not play in the Wildcats’ 94-56 exhibition win over Western State last week. He has a foot injury and word is he may have had surgery recently.
“Harding is very good,” Smith said. “... We have prepared for him to play, but we don’t know if he will play. We will be ready for everything. They have some young guys that haven’t played a lot, but do have a veteran backcourt that is very, very good.”
Facing another team from the Big Sky that has some question marks has made it interesting for the Aggies to prepare for. Weber State is led by veteran head coach Randy Rahe, a one-time assistant at USU, but the Wildcats have been in the process of changing their approach to the game. Still, Weber State is once again picked to compete for the Big Sky title.
“It seems like Weber State is always right at the top of the Big Sky, and coach Randy Rahe is a great coach,” Smith said. “... The rumor on the street is they (Wildcats) have changed some things up on both sides of the ball. ... We’ve got to be ready for a lot of different things. The good news is that we had to do the same thing for our home opener.”
In their exhibition win last week, the Wildcats had have players reach double figures in scoring. Guard Cody John and forward Dima Zdor each scored 16 points. Zdor grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots, while John also led the team in assists with seven.
The Aggies had four players reach double figures in scoring in their win earlier in the week. Sam Merrill led the way with 28 points, while Justin Bean and Alphonso Anderson added 13 years. Bean had a double-double, grabbing a game-high 10 boards.
The legend of the fan favorite is growing. Bean played the second half with two fractured teeth, which required oral surgery in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Bean, who already has a broken nose and is wearing a protective mask, played the entire second half with the busted teeth and returned to practice after the surgery. He is expected to start and play Friday.
“I did not know about it until after the game,” Smith said. “I saw the blood, because early in the game he got popped. I didn’t know he had two fractured teeth. ... That guy gets a double-double with two fractured teeth. ... Our doctors and medical staff when the extra mile to get him healthy and take care of him. He never complained and is back out there competing. Some people would be out three weeks with something like that. That guy is the ultimate warrior for sure.”
The Aggies have had two days to practice and work on getting better since the opener. The coach credited his players with having a “great attitude” since the close call against Montana State.
“I thought Montana State was very, very good,” Smith said. “... We showed great poise down the stretch and found a way to win that game. I think that game is going to help us down the road.”
Only nine Aggies saw action on Tuesday. Three players are redshirting in Carson Bischoff, Liam McChesney and Marco Anthony. Center Neemias Queta is still out with an injured knee. So, that leaves 11 athletes available.
“We want to play a lot of guys,” Smith said. “... We have four centers of those 11 guys, so it’s hard to get a rhythm with all of those guys. I do expect guys that didn’t get many minutes to get more.”
The coach was also asked about a timetable for the return of Queta, who has been doing more in practice and warmed up with the team on Tuesday night.
“There really isn’t an answer,” Smith said. “We meet and discuss it a lot. It’s a matter of him being right both physically and mentally. ... He has an incredibly bright future ahead of him. ... When it’s right, he will be out there.”