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Aggieville: USU Sports
Steve Luhm and Lya Wodraska
Steve Luhm and Lya Wodraska cover Utah State athletics for The Salt Lake Tribune. Lya Wodraska is on twitter at @LyaWodraska, Steve Luhm is on twitter at @sluhm

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Utah State's Spencer Butterfield (21) dribbles the ball past Boise State guard Dezmyn Trent during an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Logan, Utah. (AP Photo/The Herald Journal, Eli Lucero)
Utah State notebook — Rebounding edge, a standings showdown and more

Jalen Moore might not be exaggerating all that much when he calls it a "war."

On the glass, both Colorado State and Utah State have a tendency to scratch and claw for rebounds. It will be a major focus of the game between the two on Tuesday night.

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"We've been working on our rebounding," Moore said. "We're going to try to win the rebounding war. That's it."

The Aggies have prided themselves on a plus-6.6 rebounding margin that is the 18th-best mark in the nation. But against Mountain West competition, that hasn't always been the case. Utah State has been outrebounded in five games during league play, and one of those games came against the Rams.

Part of that was how poorly each team shot in a game Utah State won 57-50 - both squads were under 40 percent from the field - but Colorado State has been a strong offensive rebounding team this year. The Rams collect offensive boards on 35.6 percent of their opportunities, the second-best mark in the Mountain West.

In CSU's last meeting with the Aggies, they eclipsed that, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds and scoring 13 points off second chances. Utah State, which holds opponents to 27.5 percent offensive rebounding for the nation's No. 24 mark according to KenPom.com, will have to improve on that particular performance.

The Aggies have made some significant strides in that direction: In their last three games, Utah State's opponents have been held to a 21.8 offensive rebounding percentage as the Aggies step up on the defensive glass.

What the Rams lack in height, they make up for in aggression. Coach Stew Morrill said his players are well aware of that issue from the last time out.

"They're very physical," he said. "We have to match that physicality, that's for sure."

***

A battle for standing

In the last week, Morrill has been consistently pumping his team's good mood in practice and in games. He said it again Monday: He likes where the Aggies' heads are at.

"We're in a good frame of mind right now coming off a couple of wins," he said. "I think we're excited to play, but we know it will be a big challenge playing them there."

Colorado State understands how they feel.

The Rams themselves are coming off a pair of wins after a rough January. An extremely convincing home win over UNLV followed by a victory at Air Force has Colorado State cruising at the moment. The Rams have made a case that they're more the victims of a tough schedule that has had them play both San Diego State and New Mexico twice already.

Utah State and Colorado State are neck-and-neck in the standings, with the Rams at No. 7 and the Aggies hovering just below. If the Aggies win, it would put both teams at 5-7, but Utah State would have beaten the Rams twice in league play. If Colorado State wins, it sinks the Aggies to No. 9 in the conference behind Fresno State as the Rams rise to the top half of the league.

Of course, Utah State is also looking for a breakthrough to win its first road game in Mountain West play. Blowout road losses to UNLV and Wyoming the last two times out haven't inspired much confidence in that prospect, but the Aggies have been chewing on what went wrong in those losses more than a little bit.

The game in Fort Collins represents Utah State's best chance to get a road win for a while. The Aggies still have to go to face San Diego State and New Mexico at their respective venues. Opportunities for precious road wins are dwindling.

"On most of those games, we've come out kind of flat," Moore said. "We don't play well in the first half, then we're in a deep hole and can't dig ourselves out. We have to start better."

***

Turnovers could be key

One of Utah State's biggest weaknesses just happens to be one Colorado State's biggest strengths. And although it might not be the defining factor of Tuesday's game, it could help influence the result.

Colorado State is No. 5 in the country in taking care of the ball, giving up only 9.3 per game. Utah State is among the very bottom in steals, getting only 3.3 per game ahead of six other teams in all of Division I.

The Aggies don't play a very aggressive style of defense which helps account for why their opponents turn the ball over so infrequently. The Aggies also have a minus-2.8 turnover margin, which is again near the bottom of the country. When it comes to turnovers, typically Utah State's opponents get a few more possessions out of the deal.

Last time out, Utah State managed seven steals as the Rams had an uncharacteristic 14 turnovers. The Aggies ended up scoring 16 points off those turnovers.

If Colorado State plays truer to form and turns the ball over less, the Aggies will have to take care of the ball themselves. The Rams don't get a lot of steals either, but if the turnover margin piles up, it will be a lot harder for Utah State to win.

Kyle Goon

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon



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