There’s no lack of motivation for a win on Saturday. New Mexico State made sure of that last time.
In January, Utah State left Las Cruces with one of the season’s worst defeats and two players nurturing serious injuries. And that doesn’t account for all the bumps and bruises that everyone else got in a loss to arguably the Western Athletic Conference’s most physical team.
It would be easy to get wrapped up in competitive and revenge-inspired passions. But now hosting New Mexico State at the Spectrum, Utah State is looking for a clear head as it seeks a victory this time around.
“We’re excited — there’s definitely a little urgency to win,” Spencer Butterfield said. “They kind of handed it to us last time. We need to show them we deserve to play with them.”
The memory of the last meeting can’t be scrubbed away soon enough.
New Mexico State hurt USU in more ways than one: pounding the post for points, creating hockey-style scrums for rebounds, dunking on fast breaks. By the second half, NMSU had cranked into full gear, leaving a gassed Utah State squad with its first loss of the season. That game sent the defeated Aggies into a spiral that cost them four games before it was through. And New Mexico State, though it has lived on the edge, has only kept winning.
Utah State was cold that night, grinding out to its slowest start of the year. The first order of business will be to avoid that kind of temperamental flatline.
“We’re going to have to attack more,” Jordan Stone said. “Last time, they crashed the boards on us, and we got blocked. We’re going to have to attack them like any other team, box out and make sure we’re disrupting their offense.”
The NMSU attack is mostly in the paint, where the “other” Aggies have both size and brute force. Leading them defensively will likely be the mammoth Sim Bhullar, who clogs up the lane at 7-foot-5 and 355 pounds.
The suspension of forward Tyrone Watson will be a disadvantage. But guard Daniel Mullings is one of the more dangerous scorers in the WAC, and forward Bandja Sy can hurt with his dunks or by attacking the boards.
Utah State is still picking itself up after its loss to Denver on Thursday, a heartbreaker in overtime. But winning soothes many wounds, and the Aggies hope a rivalry game with a passionate crowd — there’s no love lost between these fan bases — can give them at least one win this weekend.
New Mexico State at Utah State
O Dee Glen Smith Spectrum (Logan)
Tipoff • Saturday, 9 p.m.
TV • ESPNU. Radio • 97.5 FM
Records • NMSU (18-8, 12-2); USU (17-6, 8-5)
Last meeting • NMSU 64, USU 51 (Jan. 17)