Utah State basketball: Tight turnaround before SDSU
Aggies’ offense struggles against UNLV; slump especially ill-timed with Aztecs coming to town.
Published: January 23, 2014 06:52PM
Updated: March 24, 2014 11:35PM
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UNLV forward Carlos Lopez Sosa and Utah State forward Ben Clifford fight for a rebound during their game Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Sun, Sam Morris)

Logan • There won’t be much time to linger on Utah State’s latest road loss; the team’s toughest home challenge of the season looms ahead.

San Diego State, ranked No. 7 in this week’s AP poll, will be storming the Spectrum on Saturday with its distinct brand of suffocating defense. A tornado of red and white jerseys have left opposing offenses smarting this year, as the Aztecs lead the nation in field goal defense by allowing only 35.4 percent shooting.

The team that’s tamed Creighton, Marquette and Kansas this year will now take on an Aggies group that scored 18 points in its last 23 minutes of play Wednesday.

Utah State is well aware of the urgency to turn around and play well at home after a disastrous visit to UNLV. Coach Stew Morrill was surprised by his team’s sluggish shooting night against the Rebels in the 62-42 defeat.

“Missed shot after shot after shot. Missed open shots,” he said Wednesday night. “They did a good job defensively. They caused us to be a little rushed, I guess. But if you had told me we could come in and got them to shoot those percentages, I would’ve thought it would’ve been a close game.”

The Aztecs are not without weaknesses.

San Diego State is one of the more average shooting and passing teams in the Mountain West, and plenty of its offense is generated through turnovers. But the Aztecs have shot below 40 percent in eight games this year, including against San Jose State in its own game Wednesday.

The challenge for the Aggies is that SDSU still manages to win those games. Can the Aggies cobble together enough offense and defend enough to not be overwhelmed?

Playing on its home court has been a welcome relief for Utah State this year, as the Aggies have shot better than their season average when playing at the Spectrum. But while there have been flashes of progress defensively, Utah State seems to be in offensive funk lately, scoring less than 60 points in three of its last four games.

No time like the present to kick the habit.

“We’ll pick it up,” freshman Jalen Moore said Wednesday. “We’ve got the two best teams in the conference coming to the Spectrum, and we’ll try to get it going in practice tomorrow and be ready for them.”

No. 7 San Diego State at Utah State

O Saturday, 9 p.m.

TV • ESPNU

UNLV 62, USU 42

(Wednesday’s late box score)

UTAH ST. (12-6)

Moore 3-7 2-2 9, Butterfield 3-9 0-0 7, Shaw 5-9 4-4 14, Medlin 1-6 1-2 3, Roland 1-7 0-0 2, M. Davis 0-4 0-0 0, Clifford 0-0 0-0 0, Noma’aea 0-2 0-0 0, Berger 3-5 0-0 6, McGlaston 0-3 1-2 1, Stone 0-0 0-0 0.

Totals 16-52 8-10 42.

UNLV (12-7)

R. Smith 5-8 3-4 13, Birch 2-8 1-3 5, Olekaibe 1-7 0-0 2, Dejean-Jones 2-6 4-4 9, D. Smith 6-11 2-2 18, Wood 0-4 0-0 0, Cook 1-4 1-2 3, Lopez-Sosa 1-1 0-0 2, K. Smith 2-2 0-0 5, Rushman 0-0 0-0 0, Kendrick 1-4 2-2 5.

Totals 21-55 13-17 62.

Halftime—UNLV 34-24. 3-Point Goals—Utah St. 2-17 (Butterfield 1-3, Moore 1-4, Noma’aea 0-1, Berger 0-1, Roland 0-3, Medlin 0-5), UNLV 7-22 (D. Smith 4-7, K. Smith 1-1, Kendrick 1-3, Dejean-Jones 1-4, Wood 0-2, Cook 0-2, Olekaibe 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Utah St. 29 (Shaw 8), UNLV 44 (R. Smith 14). Assists—Utah St. 4 (Clifford, McGlaston, Medlin, Roland 1), UNLV 12 (Olekaibe 3). Total Fouls—Utah St. 14, UNLV 11. A—12,919.