The surging Utah State Aggies pay a visit to Viejas Arena to battle the #4 San Diego State Aztecs in a critical Mountain West conference matchup Saturday night in San Diego. This is a rematch between the two from January 4th in which San Diego State won 77-68 in Logan.
CBS Sports Network will have the TV side of things, beginning at 8:00 p.m. Mountain, 7 p.m. in San Diego.
Also keep up to date with updates on twitter with @mwcconnection.
Heading into the Game…:
This is one of the last few hurdles that San Diego State must get over if they have thoughts of an undefeated regular season and a shot at a number one seed come NCAA Tournament time.
The Aztecs absolutely creamed an undermanned New Mexico team on Wednesday night in Albuquerque by a final of 85-57. SDSU hit a season high 15 three-point baskets and will hope for more of the same in this one against the Aggies.
For Utah State, this was a team that was picked by the media in the preseason to win the conference title. Things have not gone according to plan as the Aggies sit at 17-6 overall and 6-4 in the MWC, a good 4 ½ games behind the Aztecs with eight games remaining in the regular season.
The good thing is that Utah State appears to be hitting its stride. And what a time to as we enter February. The Aggies have won three in a row, and four of their last five, heading into Saturday’s matchup. Each of those four wins have come by double digits, and their three wins in a row have been by at least 16 points each.
Keys for San Diego State:
The Aztecs have had a couple of close calls this season, most notably their buzzer beating win over San Jose State and their four-point road win over UNLV. In both contests SDSU had a couple of long stretches of not scoring. It almost cost them against San Jose State and UNLV’s inability to take advantage helped the Aztecs in that one.
SDSU can ill-afford a stretch of more than three minutes without a basket against Utah State. The Aggies have too much firepower to not take advantage of such a situation. And then you’d be playing right into USU’s hands if that occurred.
Another big key for the Aztecs will be shooting the three. They did exceptionally well at that against New Mexico on Wednesday, knocking down a season high 15. Three pointers at key times also helped keep Wyoming at bay and helped overcome an early deficit against Nevada. It was also the overall difference in the win over Utah State earlier this season. Key three pointers in this game could be huge for the Aztecs.
Keys for Utah State:
The Aggies have been getting Sam Merrill things from Sam Merrill all season long. It has been his cast of support staff that has fallen by the wayside more than once. They can’t afford that in this game.
Merrill is averaging 17.9 points per game this season. He’s averaging 18.3 points per game in eight road tilts this season, as well as 18.3 per game in Mountain West play. He also had 26 points in their first matchup this season.
In that first matchup, Malachi Flynn and Merrill went toe-to-toe in scoring. Merrill came out on top 26-22, but Flynn’s team won because he had three of his teammates that joined him in double-figure scoring. Outside of Merrill, only Neemias Queta was in double figures.
Over the last several games Merrill has been getting more help. Justin Bean has gone for double figures in three of the last four games. Queta himself has done it in four of the last five, and in the fifth game he scored eight points. Brock Miller and Diogo Brito have skirted the 10-point mark in a couple games recently, with Brito hitting the 10-point mark against Air Force. The Aggies are going to need three or four with more than 12 points to contend in this one because Merrill simply can’t do it by himself.
This could very well be a preview of the MWC Tourney Title game next month. The Aggies are beginning to look like the Aggies everyone was expecting them to be this season, and what they were early in the season. And what can you not say about San Diego State right now? They’re the last undefeated team left, and they have an argument about being #1 right now. They are on track to be a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament and Viejas should be rocking. Expect a great night of basketball in San Diego.