<strong>LOGAN—</strong> Following the third best start in school history, the wheels fell off midway through the season for the USU men’s basketball team, starting with a two game road trip to New Mexico State and Denver.
After four straight losses, the Aggies seem to have righted the ship with three consecutive road wins, and are looking for revenge as they welcome both those teams to the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum this week, starting with the Pioneers Thursday.
“We definitely are hungry to get a win out of these two teams,” junior guard Spencer Butterfield said. “They put us in our rut that we were in, that four-game losing streak, so I think that there’s a little bit of chip on our shoulders from that. I think that we’re going to come in and surprise some people. We’re ready for some revenge.”
The task won’t be easy. Both teams are ahead of Utah State in the WAC standings, with Denver having won 11 of its last 12 games. The Pioneers have a very balanced attack offensively, and run a Princeton offense, which leads to backdoor layups and multiple 3-pointers. When the Aggies lost to Denver, 68-57, back on Jan. 19, the Pioneers shot a ridiculous 56.5 percent from the floor, including going 10-of-19 from beyond the arc.
“Denver has just basically been carving people up with their personnel and their Princeton system. From a purist standpoint, when you watch them you have to appreciate what they do,” USU head coach Stew Morrill said. “They get a lot of layups and they make a lot of 3’s offensively. Defensively they just give you fits with their matchups – switching to man-to-man, half-zone, half-man, nobody really seems to know exactly what their rules are. They do a great job on both ends of the court.”
The Pioneers are particularly affective at pressuring the ball when it goes into the post. In the first matchup this season, Denver forced the Aggies into 15 turnovers (while only giving up three of their own), and nine of those turnovers were from the USU big men.
However, that game was also the first for Utah State without starters Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed who were both injured just a couple days earlier in a game at New Mexico State. The Aggies weren’t ready for that game, but feel better prepared for the Pioneers this time around.
“We’re definitely gelling. When we first lost Kyisean and Preston, we had no chemistry, we were pretty down and like, ‘What are we going to do?’ We just had to adjust some things, and now I feel like we’re pretty much adjusted, so we should get things done,” junior guard Marvin Jean said.
Containing WAC Player of the Year candidate Chris Udofia will be a big key to the Aggies success. He leads the team, averaging 12.5 points per game, but the Pioneers have two other players in Royce O’Neale and Brett Olson who also average in double figures, and another player, Chase Hallam, who is averaging just less than 10 points. Olson led Denver with 18 points in its earlier game against USU, where he knocked down 4-of-8 3-point attempts.
Thursday’s game tips off at 7 p.m., and will be carried live on KVNU (610 AM/102.1 FM) and KLZX (95.9 FM). The game will also be streamed live on 610kvnu.com, and the “Voice of the Aggies” Al Lewis will be on the play-by-play.
“The biggest change in our team now is confidence,” Butterfield said. “The last time we played Denver, we were just out there, kind of a deer in the headlights a little bit, not used to playing with each other. Now we’re confident, we’re more comfortable out there. We’re playing together as a family, that’s the best part about it.”