LOGAN — When the Mountain West Conference released its basketball schedule months ago, the last two weeks of January appeared to be especially brutal for Utah State.
They've certainly been tough so far.
Starting last Saturday at Boise State, the Aggies began a stretch of four straight games against the top four teams in the league, with the first two coming on the road.
USU (12-6, 2-4 Mountain West) dropped the first two contests in this monster four-game stretch, but now it gets a chance to bounce back at home.
However, standing in the Aggies' way is the No. 7 team in the country: San Diego State (17-1, 6-0). The Aztecs come into the game winners of 16 straight, with their only loss of the season coming to No. 1 Arizona way back in November. Saturday's game will be Utah State’s first against a ranked opponent at home since it knocked off No. 10 Nevada in overtime on March 1, 2007.
Breaking out of a shooting slump that saw the Aggies only score 42 points at UNLV on Wednesday night won’t be easy. San Diego State ranks third in the nation in field goal percentage allowed at only 37 percent — and that’s when opponents actually get a shot off. The Aztecs force opponents to turn the ball over on 20 percent of their possessions thanks in part to their full-court defensive style.
“One of the things they do, that not a lot of people in our league are doing, is that they pick you up full-court constantly,” Morrill said. “That kind of gets them in a mode where they’re really looking to defend you.”
To make matters worse, USU hasn't had much time to prepare for San Diego State. The Aggies didn’t get a lot of sleep in Las Vegas with a late tip off, combined with a 5 a.m. wake-up call to make the return flight on Thursday. Morrill gave the team Thursday off to try and recover. As a result, the Aggies only had practice Friday and shootaround Saturday to try and install a game plan to counter the Aztecs.
“We’ve got to jam everything in and get ready to go for an awfully good team,” Morrill said. “We’ve got to shoot and rebound better than we did the other night. It seems like right now we’re playing awfully good teams.”
Saturday night will be another late night for the Aggies. The game will tip off at 9 p.m. in the Spectrum and is being promoted as a “whiteout game.” Morrill joked that he would not be joining in the whiteout festivities — as wearing a white suit would “take a lot material that he didn’t have right now” — but he is happy to have anything that will excite the crowd and hopefully give his team a boost against a tough opponent.
“We need to have some energy as a team and hopefully our fans can help us have energy,” Morrill said. “I don’t think the late start on Saturday night will mean as much as it might on a weeknight. Anything that promotes enthusiasm, I’m all for.”
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.