Logan • A funny thing happened last time the Aggies hit the court for a game.
While 3-pointers are generally understood to be harder to make, being further away than 2-pointers, Utah State had a worse shooting percentage inside the arc (32.4 percent) than outside (38.5). It's one of those funny things that happens when the Aggies face teams as long and quick as San Diego State: The closer they get to the basket, the tougher shots seem to be.
The Aggies are aware of the issue, and hope this weekend's game against Fresno State marks a turnaround to that unfortunate statistic.
"We just need to stay aggressive and do what we need to do," Preston Medlin said. "Our outside shooting wasn't going so well, so what teams are able to do is shrink in. It makes it a lot harder for you to drive in and get shots. Hopefully we can make some outside shots and open the lanes up."
It may be a generous understatement to say Fresno State is not in the Aztecs' class defensively. They allow 71.4 points per game, and KenPom.com ranks them No. 212 in defensive adjusted efficiency.
But it would be a mistake to underestimate the Bulldogs. They average 6.5 steals per game, and they only allow 32 percent shooting beyond the 3-point line. They have fleet-footed guards, which has bothered the Aggies in the past.
If Utah State can't build up some momentum early, the game could go to the 'Dogs.
"They disrupt what you're trying to do with that athletic ability," Stew Morrill said. "That's where you have to be precise. You can't turn the ball over too much, you have to screen better and you have to cut harder."
Utah State is glad to get a new opponent to scout for Saturday's game - Medlin pointed to it as a bit exciting in the parade of opponents the team is playing for a second time - but offensively, they play a style similar to another conference opponent.
Morrill was among the Aggies who compared the Bulldogs to Boise State's style of play. They play mostly four spread with a big man inside. Fresno State uses speed and screens to make their offense run.
"What you see a lot with Fresno State is a lot of hand-offs and ball screens, giving their guys a chance to get downhill off a lot of quick action," he said. "It's similar in some respects to the way Boise State plays. They kind of wind you up and you have to be on it defensively to deal with all the things they try and do."
Obviously there are difference, but the similarities between the two might help Utah State prepare. Instead of Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic, however, this time it's Marvelle Harris and Tyler Johnson.
The Aggies played scout on Thursday. Ben Clifford said the warm-up went well. One area the Aggies may focus on is rebounding: Fresno State has a minus-2.2 margin, which could play very well into the Aggies' hands.
"Throughout the past and all year, we've prided ourselves in our rebounding," he said. "We had a bit where it slipped, but we feel like we're getting back. We're definitely going to rely on our effort on the boards."
It's another stakes game in the Spectrum on Saturday as the Aggies have a chance to tie in the standings with Fresno State. A win will pull Utah State ahead into seventh place, which can put USU only one game behind Nevada if the Wolfpack falls at Air Force on Saturday.
Moving up one spot is not especially critical in a tightly packed bottom half of the league, but it is the difference - as things stand now - between playing Colorado State and Air Force in the conference tournament. Of course, if Utah State can catch the falling Wolfpack and move ahead of them before the season is out, they could get a date with the bottom seed in the first round, then potentially face only a No. 3 seed in the next round.
It might be getting a little ahead, and the Aggies are only focused on the game at hand. But even Morrill recognizes each win will be critical as the seeding shakes out before March.
"It's late February. There are teams that are done right now, to be honest. They've faded and are just trying to get through it. We haven't shown that. I think anytime you should try and climb your way up the standings. I hope they know that. They're one game ahead of us, let's make that up if we can."
The league was stunned by the news this week that Larry Nance Jr., the best player on the No. 4 team in the standings, was lost for the season with an ACL tear in Wyoming's game against Fresno State on Tuesday. It was a crushing blow to a team clearly on the rise in conference play.
Morrill said he had a little one-on-one time with Nance when the Aggies were in Laramie. The junior forward was interested in talking to Jarred Shaw - both have Crohn's Disease - and Morrill had a chance to see his personality.
He came away with a strong impression, and said he was saddened to see one of the league's great players go down.
"He's just a quality kid in the way he plays the game and conducts himself," he said. "Talking to him, I was even more impressed. I watched it on film yesterday when we got home and watched the Wyoming-Fresno game. It just made you sick to watch him go down. You know immediately when you see it happen that it's something serious. They're a tough, hard-nosed group. They'll respond, they won't fade over this."
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