Aggies gear up for tough road game in Pit
Published: Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 01:02
The Pit can be a very unforgiving place. San Diego State found that out last week along with 10 other teams that have left New Mexico with a bad taste. The Utah State men’s basketball team is going to experience the Pit for the first time on Tuesday.
“Obviously it’s a tough challenge, but as a basketball player you should enjoy it. The Pit is one of the great environments, probably one of the top 10, in college basketball,” said USU head coach Stew Morrill. “They’ve had great teams through the years and they have another great team right now. I think right now, they’re probably playing better than anybody. They are just so effective at every position.”
New Mexico breached the AP Top-25 this week. The No. 25 Lobos have won five straight home games and the Aggies are riding a three game losing streak.
“We’re not the most confident group right now,” Morrill said. “We have to decide whether we want to just play it out or play to win.”
The Aggies lost a close game on Saturday in the Spectrum to Fresno State, dropping them to 5-10 in conference play. The loss came despite shooting 50.8 percent from the field and scoring 42 of their 76 points in the paint. However, it wasn’t enough as they allowed the Bulldogs to score 79 points.
“We played good enough offense to win the game, but we just couldn’t guard them, or wouldn’t guard them,” Morrill said after the game. “They just went around us, When we tried to play zone, they hit a three. Our defense was lacking.”
The Aggies will have to find a way to slow Cameron Bairstow, who shredded the Aggies on Jan. 28 in the Spectrum. Bairstow had 22 points and 4 blocks in New Mexico’s 78-65 rout of Utah State. Bairstow averages 20.5 points per game, a total that is first in the Mountain West.
“He’s really good. We didn’t have anybody to guard him,” said Morrill about Bairstow after USU’s first meeting with New Mexico. “That’s a really good basketball team. They pretty much dominated both halves.”
USU has oscillated this season between stellar defense coupled with dismal offense and high scoring games with little defensive pressure. They have rarely seen the scoring and the defense coincide. Last week the Aggies scored 45 points on Tuesday, but 76 on Saturday. If USU is to match up defensive prowess with offensive explosiveness, it will rest in the paint.
With much of New Mexico’s scoring coming from their big men, the Aggies will have to dominate scoring in the paint, which they did on Saturday against Fresno State by a 42-28.
In the two teams’ first meeting New Mexico won without their starting center Alex Kirk. He missed the game due to injury. This time he will be playing, causing an even bigger challenge for the Aggies down low.
“He presents problems because he can face up and shoot it. He’s so big down low,” Morrill said. “During his career, he’s gotten better and better at the low post. I watched them play Nevada on tape, and both their big guys had almost 30 points. If you don’t guard their big guys, the game is over right there. You have to do a good job on them.”
Senior center Jarred Shaw is averaging 14.6 points per game and sophomore forward Kyle Davis is averaging 9.6. Davis also grabbed a personal best 15 rebounds last week.
USU will need a great performance overall to compete in the Pit. The Aggies have one road win in conference play, which came against Colorado State earlier this month. However, Shaw does not think his team will shy away from a challenge.
“I’m up for the challenge,” Shaw said. “I don’t back down from anyone. I look at it as another opportunity to get a win. So I’ll be going down with that mindset, and hopefully we can get a win.”