Utah State begins final stretch with road match at banged-up Fresno State – Cache Valley Daily

With its most difficult regular season games behind it, Utah State begins a four-game finale to conference play where it’ll face the bottom three teams in the conference. Tonight, that means Fresno State, a team on a three-game losing streak.

Since the Aggies hold a firm grip on first place in the standings, they’re in great position to end up with at least a share of the regular season Mountain West title. But the work still needs to be done and done well. One only need look three days into the past to find an example of a catastrophic loss, as New Mexico allowed itself to be defeated at home by last-place Air Force. Such a loss would upend USU’s hopes of a full share of the conference title and potentially put getting a share of the title in jeopardy.

The Bulldogs’ most recent loss in their three-game skid was a 32-point home shellacking at the hands of San Diego State. FSU scored a season-low 41 points. But that’s not something USU head coach Danny Sprinkle wants to focus on and assume Tuesday’s contest will be an easy one.

“We’re going to get their best shot,” Sprinkle said. “They didn’t play as well as they wanted to (Saturday), and San Diego State came in and played really well. I’m expecting a really tough game.”

But the fact of the matter is that this will only be a tough game if the Aggies make it a tough one. Consider to their trip to Wyoming. Utah State on its A-game can and will defeat anyone in the conference, and will take down any team lower in the standings by 20-plus points. There’ve been examples of both during conference play. The Wyoming game is a good example of the poorer side, where USU sluggishly made its way through that game before finally putting its act together. On the flip side there are the games against San Jose State, Air Force, and a previous matchup with Fresno State where the Aggies entertained no thoughts of an upset and won each contest by at least 21 points.

Compounding the potential advantages for Utah State is the fact that Fresno State is struggling to field a complete frontcourt due to injuries to both of its centers, Eduardo Andre and Enoch Boakye. Both players started against the Aggies in the previous matchup, but Andre is out for the season and Boakye has missed two straight games, being questionable for today’s game. Additionally, sixth man guard Donavan Yap is also out, he scored 12 points against USU last time.

These injuries, especially those to Andre and Boakye, have forced the Bulldogs into an ultimate small-ball rotation with Leo Colimerio who, despite being 6-foot-7, is a perimeter player starting at center.

Again, Sprinkle is uninterested in playing up these factors.

“I know they’ve had some injuries, but it doesn’t matter. It’s next man up,” Sprinkle said. “They’re going to come and fight. And we have to play clean. We have to continue taking care of the ball so we can get the best out of it.”

With potentially zero size to combat Osobor, one would expect him to dominate and potentially top 20 or even 25 points in this one. And while that’s logical to think, there’s no way Fresno State is going to single-cover Osobor with Colimerio or anyone on this roster (even of Boakye plays he probably wouldn’t be left on an island with Osobor). The Bulldogs will do everything possible to get the ball out of Osobor’s hands — they did as much against Jaedon LeDee in their last game, throwing double teams immediately at him every time he touched the ball in the post (LeDee still ended up with 22 points, though).

The Aggies must be able to get points in transition and take advantage of Osobor getting double-teamed in the post. Darius Brown has provided a big lift in this respect lately with his shooting and overall scoring (17.3 points per game his last four outings), and that could be enough in a game like this. But to be sure, contributions from Mason Falslev and Ian Martinez, the latter of whom has struggled quite a bit the last couple weeks, would drive a stake into the heart of FSU’s hopes of winning.

Fresno State’s small-ball goes both ways, though. The Aggies must find ways to defend it with guys like Osobor, Johnson, Sakho or Templin on the court. It won’t be easy given that Colimerio is essentially a guard/small forward, a player USU’s bigs aren’t always as capable of guarding away from the basket. 

“When they do go to their smaller lineup, it’s dangerous,” Sprinkle said. “They’re really hard to guard when they’re do go small and they play with a different pace.”

Recent games have seen the Aggies go big, with Osobor spending a lot of time alongside either Isaac Johnson or Kalifa Sakho. It’d be a surprise to see any moment tonight where any of those three share the court. In fact, it’s likely Sprinkle opts for a different starting five, similar to what he did when USU faced Air Force. In that game, Sprinkle inserted Josh Uduje into the starting five, taking out Johnson to slide Osobor to center and Uduje essentially playing a wing-oriented power forward role.

Projected Starters

Utah State: 22-5 (10-4, 1st in MW)

  • G — Darius Brown (6-2, Sr.) – 11.9 points | 4.1 rebounds | 6.3 assists

  • G — Mason Falslev (6-3, Fr.) – 11.3 points | 4.4 rebounds | 2.5 assists

  • G — Ian Martinez (6-3, Jr.) – 13.2 points | 3.7 rebounds | 1.8 assists
  • G — Josh Uduje (6-5, Jr.) – 6.5 points | 3.2 rebounds | 0.9 assists

  • F — Great Osobor (6-8, Jr.) – 17.8 points | 9.1 rebounds | 3.0 assists

Fresno State: 11-16 (4-10, 9th in MW)

  • G — Isaiah Hill (6-0, Sr.) — 12.2 points | 3.3 rebounds | 6.3 assists
  • G — Xavier DuSell (6-4, Jr.) — 11.3 points | 2.2 rebounds | 0.6 assists
  • G — Jalen Weaver (6-4, Jr.) – 6.7 points | 2.0 rebounds | 0.9 assists

  • F — Isaiah Pope (6-5, Sr.) – 8.6 points | 2.9 rebounds | 1.6 assists

  • F — Leo Colimerio (6-7, Sr.) – 6.1 points | 3.7 rebounds | 1.1 assists

Source link

Share This Article



Related Articles