LOGAN — Winning on the road in college basketball is never easy. Thus far for the Aggies it has been a particularly difficult riddle to solve.
The Aggies are 1-5 away from the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum this year, the lone victory coming against a 3-13 Idaho State team that nobody would mistake for world beaters. Now, just a week into Western Athletic Conference play, the Aggies (9-7, 1-1) have entered a critical portion of their schedule that has them playing four straight on the road, beginning tonight at 7 MT against New Mexico State (11-5, 1-0) in Las Cruces.
While the road has been unkind for Utah State this season, things have improved during their last two trips. The Aggies nearly erased a 21-point halftime deficit at Wichita State before falling to the Shockers in mid-December. That effort sparked a five-game winning streak for Utah State leading into the holiday break. Then, on New Year's Eve, Utah State took 15th-ranked Mississippi State down to the wire in Starkville, but a Danny Berger 3-pointer for the win at the buzzer bounced off the rim.
"We haven't been great on the road, we've gotten closer, we've gotten a little better our last couple of road games, but we've got to step it up a notch to have a chance to compete and have a chance to win in any of these games coming up," said Utah State coach Stew Morrill.
Going to Las Cruces presents a special challenge in itself. Utah State is just 2-5 against the southern Aggies at the Pan American Center since joining the WAC in 2006. This year's New Mexico State team boasts arguably the best front line in the conference with forwards Wendell McKines and Hamidu Rahman, and ranks sixth nationally in rebounding at 37.8 a game, a statistic that worries Morrill.
"Obviously, starting with New Mexico State, you go in there and always know what you are in for with an athletic team, a great rebounding team. It all starts with Wendell (McKines), but they've got good personnel," said Morrill. "When you look at the Nevada game, and we didn't rebound the ball, that was probably the tell-tell stat. It's something we've been emphasizing and working on and hoping we can get better, but it is a concern every night out for us."
Against the Wolf Pack last Saturday, Utah State gave up 11 offensive boards, preventing the Aggies from ever grasping the momentum and taking the lead.
McKines is a WAC player-of-the-year candidate and a rebounding machine. The senior forward already has nine double-doubles on the season and is averaging nearly 14 rebounds a game over the last seven contests.
"The only thing you can do is everybody try and do their job, everybody try and block out when the ball is shot. They're such a strong offensive team and when you have McKines averaging over 10 rebounds a game somebody's got to put a body on him," Morrill said. "We basically have to try and gang rebound and everybody try and get a body on somebody. There is no question it's a challenge."
USU on the air
Utah State (9-7, 1-1) at
New Mexico St. (11-5, 1-0)
Today, 7 p.m.
Radio: 97.5 FM
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