Utah State basketball: Aggies look to avoid Pacific ambush
It didn't seem surprising to Stew Morrill that Pacific already knocked off two Mountain West teams.
The Utah State coach knows the program well from its days in the Big West, and he's fallen to the Tigers more than a few times during his tenure with the Aggies. He knows Pacific to be an efficient, good-shooting team.
And he hopes Utah State won't be the latest Mountain West squad to fall.
"They've got a lot of experience back off an NCAA Tournament team," Morrill said. "That shows when you watch them play. They have a really good feel for what they're doing for this time of year."
Utah State (5-1) comes off its first lost with a long homestand ahead.
The Aggies won't have to leave the Spectrum until conference play begins in January, and the team sees it as a time to prepare, stay healthy and correct various issues that reared their heads against BYU last week.
But the first game of their next six at home is Pacific (6-1), which has only lost to Pac-12 power Oregon. The Aggies are expecting a dogfight that will test their ability to defend 3-pointers and artful cuts to the basket.
"They've got a lot of experience, and they've got some shooters," junior center Jordan Stone said. "We've got to be ready to guard that. We're trying to protect our home court and make sure we're taking advantage of that."
Utah State's ability to score this year hasn't yet been compromised. Preston Medlin, Jarred Shaw and Spencer Butterfield each is averaging 14 points or more. Forward Kyle Davis has come on in the last two games, averaging a double-double last week.
But defense has been another issue. The Aggies couldn't stop BYU from driving into the paint or beating them in transition last week. Utah State has had a week to work on those issues and will be tested Saturday night against a team that's not afraid to play rough.
"Through all the years of playing them, one thing we used to always know is that they were going to be physical," Morrill said. "You better respond or it's going to be a long night."
The Tigers feature balanced scoring as well, with four players averaging double digits. That includes forwards Tony Gill and Ross Rivera, who can stretch the floor with their 3-point shooting ability and could challenge Utah State's big men to defend the perimeter.
Pacific is coached by Ron Verlin, the twin brother of Idaho coach and former Utah State assistant Don Verlin. Verlin has impressed in his first year at the helm, Morrill said.
"They're similar in that they're upbeat, positive guys who are very likable," he said. "Their kids like playing for them, and they're the kind of guys you like being around on a daily basis."
Pacific at Utah State
O Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, Logan
Tipoff • Saturday, 5 p.m.
Radio • 1280 AM
Records • Utah State (5-1), Pacific (6-1)
Series history • USU leads 44-23
Last meeting • Pacific won 65-57 at home Dec. 3, 2011
About the Aggies • Utah State boasts three players averaging 14 points or more seniors Jarred Shaw (15.7), Spencer Butterfield (14.8) and Preston Medlin (14.2). ... The Aggies' opponents have not shot well behind the arc this season, averaging 24.7 percent on 3-pointers to make USU's 3-point defense No. 15 nationally. ... Sophomore forward Kyle Davis leads the Mountain West in field-goal shooting percentage with a 67.6 percent rate.
About the Tigers • Pacific is one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the nation, ranking fifth at a 79.8 percent shooting rate. ... The Tigers already have beaten two Mountain West teams this season Nevada 80-78 in Reno, and Fresno State 86-77 at home.