It doesn’t get any easier for Utah State basketball.
Less than 48 hours after being pummeled 64-51 at the hands of New Mexico State, the Aggies will continue their road trip with a visit to Magness Arena and the Denver Pioneers.
Even though the Western Athletic Conference season is not to the halfway point, the match-up with the Pioneers is an especially crucial game for Utah State. Following up a 13-game winning streak with a two-game losing streak would likely drop the Aggies to fourth place in the WAC and place them in a large early season hole as they chase their fifth conference title in their eight-year stay in the WAC.
While the Aggies were struggling to just get 51 points, their lowest total since 2010, Denver was busy holding San Jose State to just 28 percent shooting in a 73-37 blowout of the visiting Spartans.
It’s not just the Denver defense that worries Aggie head coach Stew Morrill either. The Pioneers run a Princeton-style offense full of driving and back-door cuts, which can make it a difficult match-up to prepare for on a short turnaround.
“The Princeton system that they play is unique, it is very secretive; all of the guys who run it on the things they do in it and they are just the masters of getting layups and wide open three-point shots,” Morrill said.
Last year, Utah State and Denver played in the Spectrum with the Pioneers winning handily over a reeling Aggie team 67-54. Most of the players from that Denver squad return this year, including Chris Udofia, who is second on the team at 12.3 points per game, and Chase Hallam, who shoots above 40 percent from 3-point range.
Morrill certainly didn’t want the team to set out on the road trip aiming for a split, but against two of the top teams in the league a split would be just fine for the Aggies at this point.
“You look at it and it is one of those year where you say, ‘boy if we could get one,’ ” Morrill said before the team left on the road trip. “For years we have talked about that where you don’t want to say ‘we are going to go out on the road and just try to get one,’ and I have always responded ‘that’s not too bad!’ If you get the first one, you would love to get a sweep, but we all know how tough it is to win in college basketball on the road.”
After the stop in Denver, the Aggies get to come home, but the challenge will still be there as fifth-place UT Arlington and first-place Louisiana Tech will visit the Spectrum.
Utah State (14-2, 5-1 WAC) @ Denver (10-7, 6-1 WAC)
Saturday, Jan. 19, 4:30 P.M. MST
Denver — Magness Arena (7,200)
TV: Root Sports
Radio: Aggie Sports Network
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.