<strong>San Jose, Calif.—</strong> The last time the Aggies and Spartans met, Utah State still had four of its five starters, and San Jose State was the shorthanded team as SJSU had suspended WAC leading scorer James Kinney, along with teammate Louis Garrett. Despite those losses, the Spartans hung with the Aggies the entire game before falling, 66-60, back on Jan. 11.
Garrett missed three games, and Kinney has not returned since that game, due to what has only been called a violation of team rules. Not coincidentally, the Spartans have lost every game since then – seven straight. The Aggies, however, know all about losing teammates and battling back. USU will be looking to win its third consecutive road game, after dropping four straight.
“I think it’s easy to look at them and say ‘Wow, they’re having some struggles and all that in terms of wins and losses,’” USU head coach Stew Morrill said. “The last thing we need to do is think we’re just going to waltz in there and win. We’re not going to waltz in anywhere and win. We have to play extremely hard, get better offensively, (and) do the things we need to do to keep ourselves in games.
“They are very physical right now, they’re athletic. They have a number of players who can step up and have big nights, (Chris) Cunningham in the post, D.J. Brown on the perimeter, they have (Louis) Garrett back. I’m sure they felt like they were rolling along until they had the suspensions and that has affected their team.”
In Kinney’s absence, the Spartans have had balanced scoring, with Cunningham and Brown leading the way. In the interior, Cunningham is averaging a near double-double with 10.4 points and nine rebounds per game. At the guard spot, Brown is averaging 9.3 points per game, to go along with four assists. Both players had a solid game in the Spectrum against the Aggies as Cunningham had 15 points and eight rebounds, while Brown had a team-high 16 points.
For the Aggies, Utah State must keep its recent inspired play going. Junior center Jarred Shaw needs to continue his hot play, but more importantly, USU must continue to get production from its point guards, role players, and its limited bench.
“Ben (Clifford) had 10 rebounds in a game. There were a lot of ways guys contributed. Marvin (Jean) was excellent on the defensive end and had a number of assists,” Morrill said of the recent win streak. “It always helps, like I said, when you can get a third or a fourth scorer. That always gives you a better chance to win.”
Despite losing a definite scoring punch in Kinney and his 20 points per game, the Spartans have continued to be one of the better teams in the conference. They hold opponents near 40 percent shooting, and to only 31 percent from beyond the arc. Friday’s contest could turn into a defensive battle, as the Aggies have also stepped up the defensive effort over the past three games.
“It goes along with playing really hard. They understand that they’re in an underdog role. They understood that they were going to have to do some things better after losing four in a row and after Kyisean and Preston went out,” Morrill said. “They were in games, but weren’t quite getting over the hump. I think they were looking for any way to win that they could. It’s encouraging to have guys respond that way. Instead of getting all down-and-out and feeling sorry for themselves, this group looked for a chance to win. That involved playing a little better defense. We’ve done that. It helps when your offense takes a pretty good step forward.”
Friday’s game against San Jose State won’t be televised, but will be aired live on KVNU (610 AM/102.1 FM) and KLZX (95.9 FM) in Cache Valley. The audio of the game will also be available for live streaming via the web, at 610kvnu.com, with Al Lewis, the “Voice of the Aggies” on the play-by-play.”