Utah State head coach Ryan Odom looks on against the Colorado State during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, in Fort Collins, Colo. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
BOISE, Idaho — Utah State (15-12, 6-8) takes on Mountain West leader Boise State (20-6, 11-2) on Saturday afternoon. The Aggies will try to snap a three-game losing streak and get revenge for their three-point loss to the Broncos earlier this season.
“We’re excited to get back out on the court. We know it’s going to be a tough game, but we’re not afraid of it,” head coach Ryan Odom said. “We’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
Utah State’s three-game losing streak is their second-longest of the year and the Aggies are at risk of tying their longest streak if they lose at Boise. Odom thinks his squad has learned from their last two double-digit losses.
“The guys have learned from all of that and I think the biggest thing is just that game the other day, for our purposes and our standards, just wasn’t up to par,” Odom said. “We have to make sure that we’re playing to our standard on every play. That’s really been the message to our guys. I’m not worried about what the margin was in the last game. We’re still a good team.”
While Odom and the Aggies do not look for excuses, their team has not been the healthiest lately. Illness and injury have affected the roster, benching productive guards Sean Bairstow, Rylan Jones and Brock Miller for various amounts of time in the past month. Afflictions are not solely limited to those players. Odom said his team is “probably” the healthiest they have been in quite some time.
“We’ll see. We practiced pretty hard the last couple of days so we’ll see,” Odom said. “Hopefully, I didn’t zap their energy going into this game, but we needed it.”
The Aggies have a shot at redemption from their loss to Boise State in January. Utah State played well in the contest, but could not hang on to their lead in the final minute to lose 62 to 59.
“We played well enough to win the game. We were up three with a minute to go,” Odom said. “We still had every opportunity to win it.”
One big reason Utah State ended up losing the game was Bronco center Mladen Armus. The redshirt senior from Serbia put up 22 points and grabbed 19 rebounds, 10 of which came off the offensive glass.
“Armus had a career game against us in the first matchup,” Odom said. “We gave him too many shots around the basket, clean looks where he wasn’t contested. Obviously, he got the offensive rebounds and a couple of those and-ones really added up pretty quickly on us.”
The Aggies will need to limit Armus’ effectiveness in the paint if they want to win in Boise.
“We certainly have to make an adjustment there and we have to do a better job of blocking him out,” Odom said. “He’s just a big physical guy in and around the basket. We have to make sure we’re fighting him harder than we did in the first game.”
One leading Bronco had a terrible game against Utah State last time out. Guard Marcus Shaver Jr. was limited to three points while missing 10 shots in the game. Typically, he averages 13.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. Odom praised guard Steven Ashworth’s defensive effort in the game as the main factor limiting Shaver. In the same breath, Odom warned that just because the Aggies guarded someone well previously, that does not mean they cannot have a career game in the second matchup like Nevada’s Grant Sherfield did last week.
“Shaver had what is not a typical game for him. I think Steven did a really nice job on him,” Odom said. “He’s one of the top players in the conference at this point and I would expect him to raise his level of play.”
Another Bronco to watch for is the team’s leading scorer forward Abu Kigab. He averages 13.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Odom called him and Shaver Boise State’s leaders.
Freshman forward Tyson Degenhart has made a name for himself in the conference this year. He’s won the Mountain West’s Freshman of the Week honors seven times this season including the last four weeks in a row. In 27 minutes per game, Degenhart is the team’s fourth-leading scorer and fourth-best rebounder.
“Degenhart is clear freshman of the year and he’s elevated his play,” Odom said.
Boise State’s guard Emmanuel Akot has missed time the past two weeks. He has not played since the Broncos’ Feb. 3 loss at Wyoming. Akot is on the mend and is questionable for the game.
“Akot’s been out for a few games. Obviously, we’ve prepped for him, but we’ll kinda see at game time if he’s going to be able to go or not,” Odom said.
To win the game, the Aggies will need to upset an impressive, likely tournament-bound team in their own arena.
“They’re not going to beat themselves,” Odom said. “We have to make sure that we’re pushing the ball with intention. Certainly, we want the game to go a little bit faster than they do, but we have to make sure that we’re making good decisions in transition, unlike the other day.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. MST. CBS Sports Network will broadcast the action.