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Utah State basketball: Aggies seek improvement against UNLV D

First Published Feb 13 2014 09:56 pm • Last Updated Feb 13 2014 09:56 pm

Logan • They studied the Rebels the first time around, and thought they understood just how tough they would be defensively.

For the Aggies, understanding the UNLV defense didn’t mean playing well against it. Last time the teams played, Utah State suffered a 62-42 loss that still stands as one of the team’s worst offensive games by any measure.

At a glance

UNLV at Utah State

Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS Sports

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What guides the Aggies now is experience as they prepare to host the Rebels on Saturday at 2 p.m.

"Obviously going to be better facing them twice," senior TeNale Roland said. "We’ve watched a lot of film of them. We know what’s going on. They’re really athletic, they’re a good team. We’ve just got to play hard."

At its best, UNLV is one of the toughest match-ups in the Mountain West on defense. The Rebels are No. 4 nationally in 3-point percentage defense (27.6 percent), No. 8 in blocked shots (6.5 per game), No. 11 in defensive rebounds (27.42) and No. 27 in field goal percentage (39.6 percent).

Those stats are in part related to UNLV’s strong interior: Between Khem Birch’s enormous wingspan and Roscoe Smith’s tenacity on the boards and elsewhere, the two can prevent a lot of penetration. Speed on the wings also help the Rebels stay in front of shooters.

The Aggies have continued to study film and tendencies, and that includes a hard look in the mirror at that last disappointing performance.

"We looked at stuff we did wrong and things we could do better," Danny Berger said. "We’ve brought it to the practice court, and our scout squad has emulated what they do. We’re trying to get to know their sets they like to run. All that combined, we’ll be more prepared."

Free throws on the rise

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Throughout Mountain West play, it’s been common to see Utah State’s opponents up at the free throw line a lot more than the Aggies. Out of their 12 league games, USU has only gotten more free throw attempts than its opponent three times.

Two of those game have come in the team’s current three-game winning streak. Surprised? Don’t be.

An understated element of the Aggies’ recent success has been its ability to convert at the line. Even against Colorado State, when Utah State allowed 28 free throw attempts, the Aggies weren’t so bad themselves with a 16-for-17 performance, much better than the first time they played the Rams.

In the last three games, Utah State has shot 80.8 percent from the line on 68 attempts, and is shooting 73.7 percent for the year, which is second-best in the conference.

"We’ve been trying to be aggressive around the basket and know you can’t fade away from the contact," Medlin said. "You want to get the foul. We’ve been working on that. A lot of our posts have been good at pump-faking and not getting blocked, and that’s helped us get in the bonus earlier."

Berger named to Good Works team

On Tuesday, Berger was named to the Allstate NABC Good Works team, one of five college basketball players honored for community and public service.

The junior earned the nod for his contributions to various heart health organizations and raising awareness about automated external defibrillators after he suffered a heart attack in 2012. Berger contributes to Hoops for Heart Health, and raised moned for an AED in his hometown of Medford, Ore. He also helped push for a legislative bill that provided a fund for Utah government institutions to buy AEDs.

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