Photo by Tina Lerohl
LOGAN, Utah — After six days between games, Utah State (10-9, 1-5) looks to snap their four-game losing streak at home against San Diego State (11-4, 3-1). The Aggies will have to do it short-handed, though, as they will miss two starting guards for the second consecutive game.
The Aggies will be without starting guards Rylan Jones and Brock Miller. Jones remains in concussion protocol while Miller continues to nurse a lingering back injury.
Forward Justin Bean has also been limited this week, missing practice on Monday. Head coach Ryan Odom said it was because of a “cold.” Bean did practice the next day and is expected to start against the Aztecs.
Bean has seen a slight dip in production on offense during conference play. He went from averaging 19.9 to 16.3 points per game. While not game-changing, the Aggies have lost three of their conference games by three or fewer points. Odom said that part of the decrease has been because of their game plan.
“We’ve tried to force-feed him a little bit at times,” Odom said. “We’ve tried to post him up a little bit more just based on the numbers. It allows the other teams to attack him a little easier, rather than him being out of the 3-point line and cutting to the basket.”
Another factor applies to the entire team.
“Part of it is we’re playing better defensive teams,” Odom said. “That makes it tougher, too.”
San Deigo State will be no different than the other defensive-minded squads the Aggies have faced in conference play.
“Obviously, a great defensive team, top three in the country, number one in our conference in most of the (statistical) categories on defense,” Odom said. “They understand what they’re trying to get accomplished on defense. They’re not giving up anything easy… If you can move the ball faster than they can keep their bodies in front, then you got a chance to get a decent shot. If you hold the ball against them then it could be a long night.”
The game will be San Diego State’s second in three days and third in five days, yet the Aztecs looked sharp on Monday night at home when they manhandled UNLV 80 to 55.
The Aztecs’ leading scorer is guard Matt Bradley. The California transfer has ties to Utah where he played his senior high school season at Wasatch Academy. Odom compares Bradley to NBA All Star James Harden in his prime while playing with the Houston Rockets. Odom said Bradley is able to shoot from almost anywhere, but can also find an open teammate when more defenders are put on him.
While solid at the start of the season, Bradley has taken off during conference play. Since Jan. 1, he has averaged 19.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. He has also increased his 3-point shooting percentage from 33.9% to 45.5% during conference play. His worst recent performance, scoring seven points and shooting 23.1% from the field, led to San Diego State’s only conference loss against Boise State. Odom plans to limit Bradley’s space and pressure him as soon as he gets the ball.
“You’ve got to arrive on the catch. You’ve got to be there and bother him. I thought Boise State did an awesome job,” Odom said. “He’s a good passer too, you have to give Bradley credit. He understands that if you’re going to load up on him and try to put five against the ball, he’s going to pass to his teammates.”
Guard Lamont Butler is another Aztec to keep an eye on. The sophomore from Moreno Valley, California is the second-leading score for San Diego State. He averages the highest 3-point shooting percentage on the team, knocking down 44.4% of his attempts. Butler also makes an impact on defense leading the team with 2.2 steals per game. He averages 9.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.
“I think Butler is a key player for them,” Odom said.
While the Aggies are not favored in the contest, they expect the game to be “hard” fought like all six of their conference games this season.
“It’s going to be a hard game all around. It always is, anyway, when you’re playing San Diego State, but our guys are excited to get back here in the Spectrum,” Odom said.
The game tips off at 8:30 p.m. and will be televised on FS1.