Utah State basketball: Aggies to take on No. 6 Aztecs
With five games remaining in conference play, Utah State's opportunities for statement-making victories are running out.
Tuesday night is one of the Aggies' last chances at a major upset, and the challenge will be anything but easy.
Utah State is well-known for having a tremendous home-court advantage, but San Diego State's record at Viejas Arena of late has rivaled the Spectrum's glory days. In the last four seasons, the Aztecs have lost only five home games. The last visitor to win at Viejas was then-No. 6 ranked Arizona.
Facing the No. 6-ranked team in the nation on its home court where it rarely loses isn't the Aggies' ideal setup to get back to winning after a weekend defeat to UNLV. But sophomore forward Kyle Davis said the extra challenge helps the team refocus on a three-day turnaround.
"Beating a ranked team in their home gym that would be a great accomplishment for our team," he said. "It's a great challenge ahead of us. I think we've completely moved on from UNLV."
Recently, the Aggies haven't fared well against ranked programs. The last time Utah State beat a top-25 team was when it upset Nevada in the WAC Tournament in 2007. The Aggies have since lost seven straight to ranked opponents.
But the last game against San Diego State was enough to show the Aztecs to be wary of Utah State. The Aggies pushed them to overtime on a memorable 3-pointer by Spencer Butterfield, before falling 74-69.
SDSU coach Steve Fisher said Monday that he thought Utah State, which has won three of its last four, is playing with the "upper echelon" of the conference at the moment.
"They're not going to win the league, but they can have a say in who wins the league," Fisher said. "And they're coming in here thinking just that."
Also on the Aggies' minds is proving they belong in that "upper echelon" conversation.
Utah State was on its way to getting back into the middle of the Mountain West standings on a three-game winning streak. The Rebels set them back on that quest, and the Aggies are currently languishing in eighth.
San Diego State enters the game with one of the top-ranked defenses in the nation. Although the Aztecs lost their first conference game last week to Wyoming, they still are one of the toughest teams to shoot on, and they force lots of turnovers. Guard Xavier Thames has stuck in the Aggies' minds since scoring 31 points to help the Aztecs win in January.
Still, Utah State players and coaches believe the team's record belies its ability. They believe they can be competitive against the league's best. And coach Stew Morrill hopes that confidence means his Aggies will find ways to push the Aztecs again this Tuesday.
"We played them right to the wire," he said. "A couple different possessions here and there and we win that game in regulation. From that perspective, our guys should remember that we can play with these guys."
Utah State at No. 6 San Diego State
P Viejas Arena, San Diego, Calif.
Tipoff • 9 p.m. MST
TV • ESPNU
Radio • 1280 AM
Records • USU 15-10, 5-8; SDSU 22-2, 11-1
Series history •Â USU leads 3-1
Last meeting • Jan. 25 at USU; SDSU 74, USU 69 (OT)
About the Aggies • Utah State leads the Mountain West in three statistical categories: 3-point percentage (41.4 percent), rebounding margin (plus-7) and assists (16.7 per game). â¦ Senior Preston Medlin is one point away from becoming the 16th Aggie to score 1,300 points or more. â¦ Both Medlin and Spencer Butterfield are among Utah State's best 3-point shooters ever, with Butterfield hitting 44.7 percent for his career (No. 5) and Medlin at 42 percent (No. 6).
About the Aztecs •Â In the program's last 80 home games, San Diego State has gone 74-6. â¦ The Aztecs are having one of their best defensive seasons, setting program records so far in points allowed (57.0, No. 3 nationally), defensive field-goal percentage (37.7 percent, No. 4 nationally), and defensive 3-point field goal percentage (28.1 percent, No. 7). â¦ Xavier Thames has caught the national eye this year, making finalist lists for the Cousy, Naismith and Robertson awards.