LOGAN — To say it’s been a trying year for Utah State head coach Stew Morrill would be an understatement.
Losing one or two guys during the course of the season is a lot for any coach to adjust to midstream, but after Utah State received the news that senior forward Kyisean Reed would be lost for the season to an ACL injury, and junior guard Preston Medlin will be gone for at least 6-8 weeks with a broken wrist, it's officially gone from trying to unbelievable.
"It’s a big challenge. I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that," Morrill said of his ever-adjusting roster. "It is as weird a situation as I have ever had in 27 years as a head coach."
Reed and Medlin join junior college transfer Sean Harris and guard Danny Berger as players that would have been in the regular rotation, but instead have been lost to injury this year. Morrill will have just eight healthy players to work with for the rest of the season, nine if you count walk-on Connor Garner — who has yet to play this season, but may be forced into action.
Even with the numbers down, Morrill wants what is left of his team to rise to the occasion and continue to challenge for the Western Athletic Conference title they were picked to win in the preseason.
"I expect them to play their tails off," Morrill said. "I expect them to do their best and we lost 31 points or so offensively in Kyisean and Preston in terms of league games and that is obviously a challenge to try and make up those points."
UT Arlington (8-8, 3-4 WAC), the Aggies opponent Thursday night, would make it tough to score even if the Aggies were perfectly healthy. The Mavericks sport one of the best defenses in the country, allowing opponents just 38.5 percent shooting from the floor.
Also a concern for the Aggies is a struggling defense that Morrill compared to a sieve even before losing the pair of starters. It doesn't figure to get better without Reed's ability to block shots and Medlin's tough man-to-man defense, which is why Morrill has been re-emphasizing it again this week. Down three starters from the beginning of the year, the Aggies will have to make things tougher on opposing offense to stay in ball games.
"We have got to try and be better defensively than we have been," Morrill said. "I have been harping on that for a couple of months now and harped on it some more yesterday. We’ve got to find a way to be tenacious defensively if we are going to give ourselves a chance."
Arlington is the first game of a two-game home stand for USU. WAC-leading Louisiana Tech will invade the Spectrum Saturday night. It will be the first matchup between the Bulldogs and Aggies since Tech knocked USU out of the WAC Tournament last March.
Aggies on the air:
UT Arlington (8-8, 3-4 WAC) at Utah State (14-3, 5-2 WAC)
Thurs., Jan. 24, 2013, 7 p.m. (MT). Logan, Utah, Dee Glen Smith Spectrum (10,270)
Radio: Aggie Sports Network
Kraig is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter at @DesNewsKraig.