LOGAN, Utah — In Utah State’s (14-9, 5-5) third game in five days, they will host UNLV (13-9, 5-4) and try to extend their conference-leading four-game win streak.
“UNLV is playing good ball right now. Really impressed with their team,” head coach Ryan Odom said. “They move the ball really well. They’re physical on defense and they’re very explosive. When you have a player like (Bryce) Hamilton you’re never out of a game.”
The Rebels’ primary weapon is guard Bryce Hamilton. He is the conference’s leading scorer and the 15th best scorer in the nation. His scoring prowess was apparent when he dropped 42 points on Colorado State last week. Hamilton’s performance earned him not only Mountain West Player of the Week honors, but also National Player of the Week honors from the United States Basketball Writers Association.
“Everything kind of begins with Hamilton and his ability to score and create for his teammates. He’s obviously one of the best players in the league, if not the country. He’s in a stretch right now where he’s scoring the ball extremely well. It’s difficult for any one player to handle. It’s going to have to be a collective effort to force harder shots for him,” Odom said. “His first choice is a three whether it’s off the catch or off the bounce or it’s getting all the way to the basket.”
Odom compared Hamilton to San Diego State’s Matt Bradley on Friday. Besides both players being left-handed, they play a similar style of ball with the exception that Hamilton takes fewer mid-range shots. One Aggie strategy to slow down Hamilton is to force him to use energy on defense.
“We have to make him guard on the other end to hopefully wear him down a little bit,” Odom said.
UNLV also has a more pass-oriented guard with Jordan McCabe. He leads the team with 4.6 assists per game. Despite averaging 6.9 points per game, McCabe scored a season-high 16 points in the Rebels’ last contest.
“McCabe’s really stepped up for them. I like how he’s playing right now. He’s a steady guard for them. He makes open shots. He delivers the ball on time,” Odom said.
The Rebels also have two talented forwards that transferred from Texas this season. Donovan Williams is the better scorer, averaging 14.1 points per game, but Odom was more impressed with Royce Hamm Jr.’s rebounding ability. He leads the team in rebounding by grabbing 9.5 rebounds per game. Notably, 2.5 of those rebounds typically come off of the offensive glass.
“Hamm is just a force down there. He’s a really good defender. He’s not afraid to be physical in and around the basket. He offensive rebounds. He can shoot the ball beyond the arc,” Odom said.
Last time out, UNLV took care of business at home against Nevada, 69 to 58. They snapped a nine-game losing streak to their in-state rivals dating back to 2018. Hamilton and Williams led the way with 17 points each.
Similarly, the Aggies have found their stride in the past four games after losing five of their first six conference games. Much of the turnaround can be credited to 3-point shooting and better ball movement on offense.
In three of the past four games, Utah State has hit 10 or more 3’s. In that stretch, the Aggies have shot 36.1% from downtown, which also factors in a tough performance against Air Force where Utah State missed 11 threes.
The Aggies have found recent success in finding the open-man. In the past four games, Utah State has averaged 21.5 assists per game. Overall, they rank third in the nation in total assists with 418. The Aggies also protected the ball more in the past few games leading up to a season-low five turnovers given away in their last contest.
Forward Brandon Horvath also stepped up his performance lately. He went from averaging 9.5 points per game in the first six games of conference play to putting up 14.5 per game over the last four contests. Horvath picked up his second double-double of the season on Thursday against San Jose State.
Despite these upward trends, we will likely see some fatigue from the Aggies who are playing their third game in five days and their fifth game in 11 days. Odom said Utah State will try to overcome this with their attitude.
“Mental toughness will be huge in this particular game because we have to talk to ourselves. We’re not tired. We have to make the same plays that we’ve been making in other games in this game, regardless of how our bodies feel and we can’t let that be an excuse in this game,” Odom said. “I’m confident our guys will.”
Tonight’s matchup will tip-off at 4 p.m. MST and will be televised on CBS Sports Network.