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Tough homestand awaits Aggies

sports editor

Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 14, 2013 12:02

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JUNIOR GUARD SPENCER BUTTERFIELD splits a pair of defenders during a game at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. DELAYNE LOCKE photo

 

After sweeping its three-game road trip, the Utah State men’s basketball team returns to the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum for pair of home games against two of the top three teams in the conference in Denver and New Mexico State.

“We’ve got a number of really tough games coming up and the best thing to do is just try and focus on the first one,” said head coach Stew Morrill. “Denver has just basically been carving people up with their personnel and their Princeton system.”

The Pioneers sit at 11-2 in conference play with an average scoring margin of plus-9 while shooting nearly 48 percent from the field. 

“Defensively they just give you fits with their match-ups, switching to man-to-man, half-zone, half-man, nobody really seems to know exactly what their rules are,” Morrill said. “They do a great job on both ends of the court.”

Denver has generated an average of 16 turnovers per game on defense this season including nine steals. The Aggies committed 15 turnovers in a 68-57 loss the first time the teams met this season. It was the first complete game USU played without injured players Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed.

The Pioneers shot 52 percent from the 3-point line — including 63 percent in the first half — in that game, something they live by.

“From a purist standpoint, when you watch them, you have to appreciate what they do. They get a lot of layups and they make a lot of threes offensively,” Morrill said.

But while the Pioneers boast a strong threat from beyond the arc, the Aggies showed they are just as strong from the 3-point line. USU is ranked second in the WAC in 3-point field goal percentage at 38 percent, just ahead of Denver with 37 percent in conference play.

So while the teams will likely duke it out from 3-point range, the game may be won or lost in the paint.

Utah State and Denver are 1-2 in rebounds allowed per game, but the Aggies have the WAC’s best rebounding margin at plus-7.2 per game while the Pioneers rank last in rebounds per game.

“That’s game one, then we turn around and have New Mexico State on Saturday night,” Morrill said. “Both teams are right at the top of the league with Louisiana Tech. There’s quite a separation in our league right now, top to bottom.”

Having won 59 of its last 67 games at home, Utah State will look for rising star Spencer Butterfield to continue his strong play. The junior guard has posted five consecutive double-doubles and ranks in the top 10 in the WAC in scoring at 13.5 points per game.

“He’s playing well. We wouldn’t have won games without him,” Morrill said. “It’s certainly a nice honor for him, and like I said, for our team in general.”

Tipoff between the Aggies and Pioneers is set for Thursday at 7 p.m. Tipoff Saturday against New Mexico State will be at 9 p.m. due to being televised on ESPNU.

 

– curtislundstrom@gmail.com

Twitter: @CurtisLundstrom

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