Utah State to take on conference kryptonite SDSU
Aggies in search of first win against SDSU since joining the Mountain West
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Utah State aims to finally silence the most annoying team in the world
Utah State basketball’s most decisive double-whammy in a decade begins tonight in the Spectrum against a San Diego State team with a long tradition of wrenching Aggies beating heart out with one hand and spinning the Mountain West’s wheel of chaos with the other.
The dank yellow-orange glow of the Spectrum will feature two red-hot conference front-runners in the next five days — it will also feature tonight’s game against the dreaded (but vulnerable) somehow very good (some of the time?) Aztecs.
A 68-63 Aggie loss to SDSU less than three weeks ago froze the surprising squad’s hopes for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid in place, the latest in a cursed 11-game losing streak to the Aztecs dating back to USU’s entry into the MW.
A revenge win tonight would all but make up for that ugly streak by vaulting Utah State into the conference driver’s seat, setting up Saturday’s matchup against the conference top dogs in a winner-take-all showdown for the regular season title.
A loss — well, a loss would suck. Dropping tonight’s game in front of a packed house wouldn’t make the Aggies’ breakout season any less thrilling, but it would essentially knock USU out of at-large contention and into a tougher conference tournament draw next month in Vegas. Plus losing to these guys is getting real old.
Keys to the game — A nose for the ball
Utah State lost its last outing against the Aztecs on the boards. A rare game in which the Aggies weren’t the aggressor underneath saw SDSU snag 14 offensive rebounds — each and every one of them momentum-seizing, possession-extending and ultimately back-breaking.
The Aggies shot better from the floor, significantly better from distance and boasted comparable free numbers to SDSU’s, but too many free possessions via turnovers and offensive boards made the difference in a tight game. As USU’s leading rebounders, this key is Queta and Taylor’s burden to bear.
Contain Watson and McDaniels
Devin Watson did as much damage from the foul line as he did the floor last game, posting 5/15 fg shooting and adding 11/14 from the stripe. Defending Watson is a struggle, particularly with McDaniels preventing any attempt at an effective double-team. Utah State plays defense as tough as anybody, but this pair has aced five straight tests after a weird hiccup against New Mexico and don’t appear to be slowing down.
Even frustrating these two early doesn’t necessarily help — the Aztecs have proven a knack for hanging in games, recently taking down UNR and Boise State with big second halves and surviving a late run by UNLV.
Merrill shifts from star to legend
A recent poll threaded its way throughout the Twitterverse asking who among Utah’s basketball elite was the most legitimate star. The answer is Sam Merrill — and it sure would be something if he reaffirmed this fact this week in two primetime matchups.
Merrill’s supporting cast is solid, comfortable in its various roles and at times even worthy of stealing the spotlight. That said, when you face a team you haven’t beaten in 11 straight tries you need a leader. It’s Merrill’s time to shine, and when this game is inevitably on the line there’s perhaps no player in the conference you’d trust more with the ball in his hands.
USU 81, SDSU 75