LOGAN — Just two weeks ago it looked like the season might be over for Utah State basketball. The Aggies were losers of four straight games after a couple of season-ending injuries, and the eulogies were already being written.
All the Aggies have done since then is reel off a three-game winning streak. In road wins at Seattle, Idaho and San Jose State, USU showed it wasn't quite dead yet and may be better than ever. The Aggies won their last three contests by a combined 59 points. When they faced those three teams in Logan, the Aggies came away with three wins, but only by a combined 22 points, and that was with a fully healthy lineup.
Winning games against the lower half of the conference is a step in the right direction, but this weekend the Aggies can show just how far they have come. USU gets a chance to avenge a pair of previous losses with a two-game home stand, starting with a visit from Denver (15-8, 11-2).
“We’ve played really hard and now we’re stepping up a level in opponent,” head coach Stew Morrill said. “The thing we need to make sure of is that we don’t lose how hard we’re playing. The problem with Denver is they can frustrate you.”
The frustration comes in lots of forms with the Pioneers. Denver runs a version of the Princeton offense, which generates plenty of easy layups and wide-open 3-point attempts. Defensively, DU likes to double and even triple-team in the post, which will make life difficult for Aggie center Jarred Shaw.
When these two teams squared off in Denver last month, it was the Aggies' first game without Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed, and it showed. Utah State never led, the offense sputtered throughout the game and the defense was even worse, allowing Denver to shoot 56.5 percent from the field and 53 percent from beyond the arc.
“They’re having a great year,” Morrill said. “Last time we played them they basically carved us up.”
The hope for Morrill is that his team will continue to raise its level of play facing a pair of tough challenges this weekend. The Aggies currently sit two games behind Denver and Saturday’s opponent New Mexico State in the loss column. A good weekend would put the Aggies right back in the thick of the WAC title race. A pair of losses would likely doom the team to no better than the fourth seed at the WAC tournament in Las Vegas next month.
The improved play of guard Spencer Butterfield will be a key for USU. In the first game versus the Pioneers, Butterfield scored just nine points and grabbed four rebounds. In every one of the five games since the trip to Denver, the 6-foot-2 guard has recorded a double-double in points and rebounds, culminating in being named WAC player of the week last week.
“He tries to rebound every ball,” Morrill said. “It’s his nature. There’s just a few guys that have that in them. It’s a special trait.”
Aggies on the Air
Denver (15-8, 11-2 WAC) at Utah State (17-5, 8-4 WAC)
Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 • 7 p.m. MSTTe • Logan, Utah
Dee Glen Smith Spectrum (10,270)
RADIO: Aggie Sports Network
TV: KMYU TV
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.