LOGAN, Utah – Tonight, Aggie Men’s basketball returns to the Spectrum for the first time in 25 days. Utah State (10-6, 1-2) hosts Wyoming (11-2, 0-0) in the Cowboys’ first conference game of the season.
“A really good basketball team. Obviously off to a great start this season. Coach (Jeff) Linder has them playing really good basketball,” head coach Ryan Odom said.
The Pokes will visit the Aggies for their first game since Christmas day following four postponements due to COVID-19 issues with opponents and within the Wyoming program. Coach Odom said COVID-19 pauses can affect teams in different ways.
“If you look at Boise [State, a break] didn’t affect them too bad. They were off for over a week,” Odom said. “It’s gone both ways… It can certainly be helpful from a rest standpoint… Or it can go the other way too, we’ve seen it both ways. Where your timing is off, you’re not ready.”
Wyoming is led by forward Graham Ike. He has started for the Cowboys every game this season and dropped a career-high 35 points on Denver last month. Ike has recorded five double-doubles this year and excels at getting to the line. He leads the conference in free-throw attempts, with 92, which is also good enough for 26th in the nation. The sophomore out of Aurora, Colorado averages 19.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.
“He’s a weapon down in and around the basket on the block. He’s got turnaround moves, post-up moves. He’s very physical. He’s probably the best guy that we’ve played so far at sealing around the basket and getting position to score,” Odom said.
Another Poke to watch for is senior guard Hunter Maldonado. He runs Wyoming’s offense, averaging nearly six assists per game, which ranks him as 18th most in the nation. Not only can he move the ball, but he takes care of it too. His turnover to assist ratio is 2.0, which is good enough for fifth in the conference. He was also named conference player of the week on Dec. 27 before the program’s COVID-19 stoppage. Maldonado is the second-leading scorer on the team putting up 17.3 points per game.
“Maldonado is kind of a throwback player. He does a really good job of dribbling into post-ups and attacking. But at the same time, he thrives and loves to throw the assist. He’s got an excellent turnover to assist ratio. He’ll whip the ball with his right hand all the way across the court. He’ll find Ike in tight spaces,” Odom said.
The Cowboys feature two sharpshooters from beyond the arc in guards Drake Jeffries and Xavier DuSell. Both shoot excellent percentages from beyond the arc, DuSell shoots 39.1% and Jeffries averages an amazing 48.1%.
“Those guys can really knock it in from deep. They space the court really well,” Odom said.
The Aggie defense will have their hands full at the perimeter trying to limit the three-ball.
“We’ve worked on trying to limit that. All that is, is [the] right amount of help and getting out there to the shooters. But, teams focus on getting them and they’ll screen for them and run pick-and-roll on one side and then skip it over to the top to the other side,” Odom said. “There’s been times when we’ve been really good at it, and there’s been times where we’ve had problems. Certainly, we want to continue to try to get out there without exposing ourselves.”
Aggie guard Brock Miller has been ruled out of the contest due to an ongoing back injury. Guard Sean Bairstow is projected to start in his place as he has done the last two contests. With those increased minutes, Bairstow has averaged 16 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals in an average of 37 minutes per game.
“He’s been huge. You can see his confidence continue to grow,” Odom said. “We’ve always known that he was a good player. That’s why it was so unfortunate when he got injured early in the season in that closed scrimmage that we had… Obviously, we need him. Brock’s injury is important. Brock is a vital part of our team and has remained that [way] even through his injury.”
The game tips off tonight at 7 p.m. It will be streamed live on the Mountain West Network.