Utah State basketball. Photo by Sean Greene.
LAS VEGAS — Prior to last year, Utah State had made the Mountain West Conference Tournament semifinal four years in a row. A loss to Colorado State in the semifinal ended hopes of a fifth consecutive year. Now, a fallen-from-grace New Mexico team is the only thing between Utah State and a fifth semifinal appearance in six seasons.
How to watch
- Tip-off: 9:30 p.m. MT
- Location: Thomas & Mack Center | Las Vegas, NV
- TV Broadcast: CBS Sports Network
- Aggie GameDay Coverage on KVNU (102.1 FM/610 AM & KVNU mobile app): 8:30 p.m. MT
- KVNU Aggie Call (102.1 FM/610 AM, KVNU mobile app): Immediately after game ends
G – Rylan Jones (Undisclosed) – OUT
Jones has missed the last 15 games. Utah State has not disclosed the nature of the injury though USA Today reports the senior has concussion-like symptoms. No timetable has been provided for a return.
G – Braden Appelhans (Thumb) – OUT
G – Emmanuel Kuac (Leg) – OUT
Utah State (24-7, 13-5, 3rd in MW)
- G – Steven Ashworth (6-1, Jr.) – 16.3 points | 3.4 rebounds | 4.7 assists
- G – Max Shulga (6-4, Jr.) – 12.1 points | 4.5 rebounds | 4.0 assists
- G/F – Sean Bairstow (6-8, Sr.) – 10.5 points | 5.1 rebounds | 2.6 assists
- F – Taylor Funk (6-9, Gr.) – 13.2 points | 5.4 rebounds | 1.7 assists
- C – Trevin Dorius (7-0, Sr.) – 6.1 points | 3.8 rebounds | 0.2 assists
- 6th Man – Dan Akin (6-9, Gr.) – 12.1 points | 6.8 rebounds | 0.9 assists
New Mexico (21-10, 8-10, 6th in MW)
- G – Jaelen House (6-1, Sr.) – 16.8 points | 3.9 rebounds | 4.7 assists
- G – Jamal Mashburn Jr. (6-2, Jr.) – 19.5 points | 3.2 rebounds | 1.9 assists
- G – Javonte Johnson (6-6, Jr.) – 5.8 points | 3.5 rebounds | 0.9 assists
- F – Josiah Allick (6-8, Sr.) – 8.1 points | 7.3 rebounds | 1.5 assists
- C – Morris Udeze (6-8, Sr.) – 16.4 points | 9.2 rebounds | 1.3 assists
Team Statistical Ranks
Stats and ratings are from Basketball Reference (except the NET ranking). All ranks are out of 363 Division I teams.
- Pace – 68.9 (153rd)
- Offensive Rating – 114.3 (13th)
- Defensive Rating – 101.2 (169th)
- Field Goal % – 48.6 (16th)
- 3-point % – 40.1 (4th)
- Rebounding % – 53.1 (48th)
- NET Rank – 22nd
- Pace – 71.6 (39th)
- Offensive Rating – 112.1 (27th)
- Defensive Rating – 101.3 (174th)
- Field Goal % – 48.6 (16th)
- 3-point % – 36.3 (67th)
- Rebounding % – 51.7 (118th)
- NET Rank – 50th
When Utah State faced New Mexico for the first and only time in the regular season back on Feb. 1, the Lobos ranked 30th in the NET. Good for a borderline Quad 1 win. Since then, though, New Mexico has dropped quite a ways, all the way to 50th (potentially good for another Quad 1 win since this game will be on a neutral-site court, for those who may be curious). It’s quite the drop, but representative of a Lobos team that hasn’t lived up to what they did in non-conference play.
New Mexico started the season 14-0, including a 13-0 record in non-conference games. The team briefly pushed its way into the Top 25 AP Poll, ranking as high as 21st in the Jan. 2 poll. Since that early-January poll the Lobos have gone 7-10, including an 84-73 loss to Utah State in Logan. In fact, starting from UNM’s loss to the Aggies, they went 2-7 the rest of the regular season.
The Lobos’ issues didn’t so much lie with its offense. It averaged only a handful of points below its season average (78.2 vs 81.2) and shot relatively close to what the Lobos had the rest of the season (47.3 to 48.6) and actually shot better from 3-point range (39.7 to 36.3). The key was in its defense. Opponents shot nearly 47 percent against New Mexico, nearly 40 percent from three and scored nearly 80 points per game. Not exactly a recipe for success.
But past games haven’t even won a thing for any team, and even if it were to have an impact, New Mexico has positive momentum having played a very solid game against Wyoming. The Lobos scored 87 points with Jaelen House tallying 28 and Jamal Mashburn Jr. added 22. And while New Mexico gave up 76 points, most of that was Hunter Maldonado with his 36 points. Wyoming as a whole shot just 41 percent from the field (34 percent aside from Maldonado).
At the end of the day, momentum or not, New Mexico is a dangerous team. One that boasts three players averaging 16-plus points per game — House, Mashburn and Morris Udeze — each of whom could take over a game and lead the Lobos to victory over any Mountain West team, Utah State included.
“They’ve got a good balance of inside and outside,” Odom said. “Even though they don’t shoot a ton of threes, they have the capability to make quite a few if you allow them to. They’re excellent in transition.”
As for the trio of players, Odom said House and Mashburn are “the best guards in our league,” praising Mashburn’s ability to score off the bounce and House’s defensive ability and transition offense. Udeze, who led the conference in rebounds per game despite being just 6-foot-8, is a player Odom said is “a matchup problem inside.”
Last time out, the Aggies had help dealing with this trio from a home crowd at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. According to New Mexico head coach Richard Pitino, that crowd played a factor.
“That’s a hard place to play. You have to give those fans credit,” Pitino said. “They’re on top of you, and we didn’t handle it well.”
But while the Aggies won’t have the home crowd, they do have plenty of momentum in their back pocket that could propel them forward. Defensively, USU has made major improvements. Over the last seven games, Utah State has held opponents to 65.3 points per game on just 39.2 percent shooting and 31.5 percent shooting on threes. All three of those marks would rank among the best in the country were they USU’s full-season numbers.
“We’ve certainly worked at it a lot,” Odom said of the defense. “The guys understand more where they need to be defensively to make things hard on the offense.”
Thursday’s matchup will likely come down to whether New Mexico’s trio of star scorers can break the momentum of Utah State’s defense, and whether the Lobos can stop an Aggies offense that has averaged nearly 80 points per game on 51 percent shooting over the last five games.