LOGAN — It's never easy to bounce back from a tough loss, but that is the task in front of Utah State's basketball team Saturday night. The Aggies dropped a Valentine’s Day heartbreaker Thursday, losing on a buzzer-beater in overtime to Denver, 63-60.
Now they face another stiff challenge.
New Mexico State (18-8, 12-2) visits Logan — for perhaps the last time — riding a 12-game winning streak. On the other side, Utah State (17-6, 8-5) will be looking to snap a near unthinkable streak of three-straight home losses.
The all-Aggie battle is Utah State’s only nationally televised game of the season and will tip off at 9 p.m. on ESPNU.
Much of the responsibility for stopping USU’s home skid will fall on the shoulders of the Aggies' go-to big man, Jarred Shaw. In Las Cruces, N.M., last month the junior center struggled against the size of New Mexico State’s 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar. Shaw finished with just 11 points and four rebounds, while Bhullar collected five blocked shots.
A lot changed since that night, including the play of Shaw. After a couple of rough outings adjusting to his new role as a centerpiece on offense, Shaw has started to shine. Over his last five games Shaw has averaged 18.8 points and 8.8 rebounds.
A renewed positve outlook has certainly helped Shaw. After a tough loss Thursday night, the post player took responsibility — acknowledging the importance of a couple of crucial missed free throws — but was ready to shift his focus to Saturday night.
“We can’t dwell on it. We just need to stay positive and move to New Mexico State,” Shaw said Thursday night.
The other big change from the Jan. 17 matchup comes in the starting lineups on both sides. Utah State lost starters Kyisean Reed and Preston Medlin in the second half of the game in Las Cruces, while New Mexico State no longer has the services of forward Tyrone Watson.
Watson, a senior forward who scored 12 points and six rebounds in the last all-Aggie matchup, has been suspended from the team for allegedly violating rules on conduct after he was arrested and charged with assault last week.
Even without Watson, the crimson Aggies cause all sorts of matchup problems for USU with their size and athleticism. Where Denver was precise and calculated Thursday night, New Mexico State is physical and looking to win games with its overwhelming athleticism.
“With La. Tech, they’re the most athletic team in the league and certainly the biggest team in the league,” USU head coach Stew Morrill said.
With conference play winding down Utah State has a long road ahead if it wants to move up and grab one of the top three seeds for the WAC tournament next month. Currently USU sits in a tie for fourth place with Texas-Arlington at 8-5 and is a full three-and-a-half games behind Denver and New Mexico State for second place. Louisiana Tech paces the league with an undefeated 13-0 mark.
Aggies on the air
New Mexico State (18-8, 12-2) at Utah State (17-6, 8-5)
Saturday, 9 p.m. MST
Dee Glen Smith Spectrum (10,270), Logan
Radio: Aggie Sports Network
Kraig is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.