FILE – Utah State Aggie basketball players Justin Bean (left), Brock Miller (center) and Brandon Horvath. Photo by Clint Allen
LOGAN, Utah – The Aggies (6-1) are heading into the toughest stretch of their non-conference schedule this month as they attempt to build a strong resume for the NCAA tournament. Their first challengers in December are the Saint Mary’s Gaels (7-1) out of the West Coast Conference.
“Really excited about the opportunity to compete against them. They’re a really good team, expected to do great things this season so it’ll be a good test,” head coach Ryan Odom said.
Look for the game to be determined on the Aggies’ offensive possessions. The Gaels play formidable defense, ranking 23rd in the nation in points allowed per game.
“Defensively, they’re tremendous. I think they are the top team in the country in terms of keeping teams from getting assists,” Odom said. “Obviously, that’s something we’re pretty good at or have been so far this season. So, something’s probably gotta give or maybe we’ll be middle of the road.”
The Aggies are third in the nation in assists per game and fifth in total assists. Coach Odom said Utah State will keep their focus on strong ball movement.
“Spacing is gonna be key against a team like this because they can bottle you up pretty quickly. They’re really good at guarding the basketball, they’re not gonna overextend themselves way past the three-point line, but they’re gonna put sustained pressure on you,” Odom said.
Odom said the Aggies need to be careful about their shot selection because of the kind of defense the Gaels play.
“We can’t get seduced by hard shots in the lane, but we also can’t get seduced by guarded threes either. And so we’ve got to continue to work to try to find the right shots for ourselves,” Odom said.
Defensively, Odom said the Aggies need to stay alert and on defense, especially when the Gaels get into the paint.
“They’re also really good once the ball goes into the post. They have action that they run where their guards will get involved for cutting and open threes so we’ll have to be attentive to that as well,” Odom said.
Like Utah State, Saint Mary’s went to the final of their multi-team event. They lost to Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational final. The experience the Gaels picked up in the tournament is not lost on Odom.
“They were able to score one-on-one against big players. Players from Wisconsin and Oregon and Notre Dame. We’re gonna have to get help to those guys.” Odom said.
Dan Fotu, senior forward, is a player to watch for. He is the Gaels’ leading scorer averaging 14.5 points. Fotu was also named to the All-Maui tourney team in the Maui Invitational.
“Fotu off the bench is their leading scorer. He’s a load to deal with. He can score on the block; he’s physical in there. (He) can score from behind the arc as well,” Odom said.
Fotu isn’t a one-man band though. Tommy Kuhse, Matthias Tass and Logan Johnson all average just over 10 points per game. Odom said Utah State cannot focus just on one player because the team is well balanced and has multiple guys capable of dropping more than 20 points.
Historically, Utah State leads the all-time series, 5-4, but the Gaels won the last matchup when they hosted the Aggies in 2019.
“Those games don’t really matter much in terms of what happens out here tomorrow night. It’s gonna be a fun atmosphere, certainly for both teams to compete in and I know our guys are looking forward to it,” Odom said.
Saint Mary’s has bounced back from a 14-10 campaign last year to win seven of their first eight. The Gaels look to start a win streak in Logan as they took care of business against UC Riverside, 67-50, in their last game.
The significance of this matchup on potential postseason play down the road is not lost on Odom.
“It’s an NCAA tournament potential game for either team right now,” Odom said. “It’ll be hard-fought and a tough game.”
The game tips off at 7 p.m. in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum and will be televised on CBS Sports Network.