PROVO, Utah – The Utah State Aggies (6-2) have arguably their toughest non-conference matchup tonight as they head down to the Marriot Center to battle No. 24 Brigham Young (7-1). Utah State is coming off a close loss to Saint Mary’s, a team that plays the Cougars in the West Coast Conference. The matchup will be the first true road contest for the Aggies who have faired well away from Logan early in the season. They’ve gone 4-0 at neutral sites this season.
Utah State will look to get their first win at the Marriott Center since Dec. 18, 2004, and their first win over the Cougars since Nov. 11, 2011. The Aggies’ last win over a ranked opponent came two seasons ago when the Aggies topped the San Diego State Aztecs on March 7, 2020, the game where Sam Merrill hit a 3-pointer to win the Mountain West tournament.
Last time out, Brigham Young took care of Missouri State 74 to 68, but they lost to Utah Valley in overtime just one week ago. The loss dropped the Cougars from No.12 to No. 24 in the AP poll. Brigham Young lost one of their best players, forward Gavin Baxter, to injury in the game. Cougar head coach Mark Pope said he tore his ACL, a season-ending injury. Baxter had averaged 7.6 points, 0.4 assists, and three rebounds per game.
“Obviously it’s tough for them. You feel bad for any team that loses a player of that caliber, but they’ve done a nice job of figuring it out,” USU head coach Ryan Odom said.
The Cougars are fronted by guard Alex Barcello. He leads Brigham Young in scoring with 18.6 points per game. Barcello steps up in big games, such as rivalry games and ranked matchups like earlier this season when he scored 25 on then-No. 12 Oregon.
“We don’t want to put ourselves in one-on-one situations consistently with him because he’s such a good player,” Odom said. “We’ve got to make things difficult on him.”
Forward Seneca Knight is another Cougar to watch for. The former San Jose State transfer leads the team in assists with 4.5 per game. Knight played against the Aggies six times when he was a Spartan from 2018-2020. Against Utah State, Knight averaged 9.3 points, two assists and 5.7 rebounds per game.
“He’s a guy, certainly athletically, that can get to the basket. (He’s) a solid shooter from three, a really versatile defender. A guy that we’ll have to deal with on that side of the ball as well. Our guys are obviously familiar with him, at least those that are returning that played in games, we have a ton of respect for him,” Odom said.
Aggie forward Justin Bean has played in the last two rivalry games. He has been limited by BYU in the past, never recording double-digit points. Bean thinks both teams will play strong coming off of close losses in the past week.
“BYU just came off a tough loss as well. (You’ve) got two hungry teams coming up on Wednesday,” Bean said.
Bean will have to put together his best performance against the Cougars to record another double-double to add to his NCAA-leading seven.
Their strong perimeter defense will make Brigham Young difficult to score on.
“They’re really stout. They’re the number one 3-point percentage team in the country. (They) do a really good job of just making things difficult and taking key guys out,” Odom said.
Brigham Young also has a strong presence in the post averaging four more rebounds per game than the Aggies do.
Odom says the Cougars will likely defend the Aggies in a different way than what they’ve seen from other opponents so far this season.
“That’s why you play these games, to help prepare you for every which way you could be guarded,” Odom said.
Brigham Young’s offense is characterized by its fast pace.
“They move it really fast. They get into their offense quickly, they sprint up the court,” Odom said. “I think the speed of their offense and how we adapt to that, and staying in front of them, and moving as the ball moves and being connected with one another from a positional standpoint is going to be a big key to the game.”
Utah State will encounter a hostile crowd at the Marriot Center, a venue well-known for its homecourt advantage.
“I love going into another team’s arena. I know these guys do as well,” Odom said. “I’ve seen a lot of cool arenas and crowds in my day and this is going to be another historic place to go. (I’m) going to check it off the list from a coaching perspective.”
Although he admires the venue, Odom says the crowd’s impact can only affect the Aggies so much.
“When the ball’s tipped up, it’s going to go down between the two teams. While the crowd certainly impacts it, and it does (at the Spectrum), from a noise standpoint and pressuring the other team, it’s gonna come down to execution and focus and what actually happens when we’re in the game,” Odom said.
The contest tips off at 7 p.m. MST and will be televised on BYUtv.