In-state showdown: USU vs BYU
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 13:02
More than two months after the original meeting was scheduled, the Utah State men’s basketball team will make the trek to Provo for an in-state showdown with BYU on Tuesday.
“Obviously it’s a quick turnaround and an odd time to play this game,” said head coach Stew Morrill. “This is usually a November game, December latest, so it’s unique circumstances for both teams to play it right in the middle of conference at the tail end of conference play, really.”
On the eve of the Aggies game with the Cougars Dec. 4, USU forward Danny Berger collapsed during practice and as a result the game was postponed, creating a late-season non-conference matchup and a chance for both teams to boost their tournament resumes.
BYU enters the game at 19-8 overall and 9-4 in the West Coast Conference after a pair of losses to San Diego and San Francisco hurt the Cougars at large chances for an NCAA berth. The Cougars bounced back Saturday with a 86-72 win over Portland.
Sophomore guard Tyler Haws led BYU with 28 points in the win to increase his season average to 21 points per game.
“He’s a really good player,” Morril said. “He’s got a scorer’s mentality. They get him the ball in lots of different areas. We counted about 10 or 11 plays they run specifically to get him the ball and once he gets it, he scores it. He’s very impressive with the percentage he shoots, the shots he makes. He makes open shots but he also makes contested shots.”
Led by Haws, the Cougars average 78.3 points per game on offense — the 11th highest average in the country. BYU also ranks 11th nationally in assists per game with 16.5 per game.
“Offensively they push the ball like they always have,” Morrill said. “It’s not just about Haws and Davies. They’ve got a lot of really good players. Carlino could have a big night. They’ve got good shooters. It’s a typical BYU team, just a really good basketball team.”
Slowing Haws and the rest of the offense will be key for the Aggies, especially playing short-handed with just eight players.
“I think you can safely say that we’ve improved our defense a little bit,” Morrill said. “It’s a back-against-the-wall kind of thing. The only change you have to stay in games is to play harder. You’re down personnel. It was one of those deals when you had to respond if you were going to have any chance at all to compete.”
USU will need to continue its strong offensive play against the primarily zone defense from BYU.
The Cougars have allowed 69.2 points per game this season, average a plus-2.7 turnover margin and average nine steals per game, something the Aggies have struggled with this season.
“One thing I’ve told our guys is let’s keep trying to get better and see where we’re at when the conference tournament rolls around, see if we’ve gotten better to have a chance to compete in that thing,” Morrill said. “We’re competing now with the top teams in our league. We’re not always winning but we’re competing with them, so games are good. Let’s see if we can keep getting better.”
Tipoff between the Aggies and Cougars is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday with USU’s next game being another non-conference matchup against Illinois State in an ESPN Bracketbuster game Saturday.
“It’s an odd circumstance to step out of conference for a week at the tail end of February, but we need to have fun with it,” Morrill said. “We need to play hard and have fun with it. We’ll keep trying to get our basketball team better.”