FILE – Utah State Aggie basketball players Justin Bean (left), Brock Miller (center) and Brandon Horvath (right). Photo by Clint Allen
LOGAN, Utah — Tonight, Utah State hosts Oregon in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. It will be a chance for the Aggies to claim their first postseason victory since the 2012 CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
“We’re playing a great opponent in Oregon who’s had a similar season in a lot of ways to us,” head coach Ryan Odom said. “They’ve had some great wins and they’ve had some hard losses at the same time.”
The Ducks’ marquee wins came over then No. 3 UCLA and No. 5 USC on the road in back-to-back games. They also had tough losses to California, Arizona State and Stanford.
The two squads shared two common opponents this year. Utah State and Oregon both fell to Saint Mary’s and Brigham Young this season. The Aggies kept it closer than the Ducks did in both losses. Utah State lost to the Gaels by two and the Cougars by 11, while Oregon lost by 12 and 32 respectively.
The meeting is the seventh contest between the Aggies and the Ducks. Oregon leads the series 4-2. They won the most recent matchup, a 1965 neutral site game in Portland, Oregon, 77 to 66.
Tonight’s postseason action was not guaranteed before Sunday. In fact, many national pundits did not have the Aggies making the NIT.
Forward Justin Bean had all but given up on postseason play on Selection Sunday. After hearing 30 of the slotted 32 NIT teams, Bean walked out of the room where he was watching the selection show with his wife and sister.
“I figured if I leave then we might pop up,” Bean said.
That is what happened. As he left, he heard his loved ones celebrate.
“I hear screaming from the other room and so I went back in there and sure enough the Aggies were on the screen,” Bean said. “After what this team’s been through, all the adversity that everyone knows about, it felt really good just to finally see that recognition from the committee.”
For Bean, the unexpected home game gives him a chance at redemption in the Spectrum after the Aggies lost to Colorado State on Senior Night.
“It’s crazy,” Bean said. “I definitely didn’t see it coming, but I’m glad that myself and the other guys get a chance to kind of rewrite the past and end the season with a win at home.”
Bean will be matched up against Oregon’s Quincy Guerrier. The forward from Montreal, Canada has averaged 10.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game. He has also made 1.5 3-pointers per game.
“(He) can really shoot it from behind the arc,” Odom said. “He’s a physical guy. He kind of plays both three and four out there for them and so Bean will be matched up with him to start the game.”
Oregon’s leading scorer Will Richardson may not play against the Aggies. He has missed the last three games with an undisclosed cause. Dana Altman, Oregon’s head coach, told the Oregonian that Richardson is undergoing “tests” and “seeing the doctor and the trainers,” but that he did not know anything beyond that. If Richardson is unable to play, the Ducks will miss his 14.1 points and 3.6 assists per game.
Guard Jacob Young has stepped up for Oregon in Richardson’s absence. In the last three games, Young has averaged 20.7 points compared to his season average of 12.1.
“He’s dynamite,” Odom said. “He’s got a lot of similarities to probably (San Diego State’s Matt) Bradley I would say… there’s definitely some similarities there in terms of his scoring ability and ability to make others better as well with some physicality.”
Forward Eric Williams Jr. has also performed well in the last few games. After a lackluster back-half of conference play, Williams has averaged 11.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists in the last three games. He and Richardson are the only returning starters from last year’s Oregon team that made the Sweet Sixteen.
“(He’s) inserted himself into the lineup and performed very well over the last couple of games,” Odom said.
On defense, Odom’s biggest key for success is limiting the Ducks in transition.
“They’re probably the fastest team we’ve played up the court,” Odom said. “They get out and go. They do it by getting turnovers or forcing turnovers. They do it by getting stops and spreading out and going. Their bigs are gone. We really have to do a really good job in transition defense… against them. “
Bean added that the team needs “play team defense” in order to win.
“We’re fundamentally sound,” Bean said. “Hopefully, that gets the job done for us.”
On offense, the Aggies will have to adjust to different Duck defenses.
“They mix up their defenses. They’re known for their matchup and they’ll play that zone quite a bit. They also play an aggressive press, man-to-man. We’ll see how much we see that (tonight), but we’ll certainly be prepared for it going in.”