SAN DIEGO — Utah State will have a tough matchup on its hands when it faces No. 6 San Diego State on the road Tuesday night.
But it's not an impossible task.
The Aggies nearly pulled off the Goliath-like upset when the two teams met last month — then No. 7-ranked SDSU won in overtime at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan.
"We played them right to the wire," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. "A couple different possessions here and there and we win that game in regulation. From that perspective, our guys should remember that we can play with these guys."
Since the January heartbreaker, the Aztecs' invincibility has been undone. They fell by eight points at Wyoming last Tuesday for their first defeat since losing to No. 6 Arizona in November.
San Diego State (22-2, 11-1) is one of the best defensive teams in the nation. It's ranked No. 3 nationally in defensive scoring average (57) and No. 22 in blocks per game (5.8).
"As a team they’re long and athletic and they press you," Morrill said. "They’ve added a half-to-three-quarter-court zone with a one-three-one look that can give you some problems."
The Aztecs' length may create some issues for Utah State (15-10, 5-8), which was blocked nine times by UNLV's Khem Birch in a loss last Saturday.
“We were disappointed the other night in our second-half defense," Morrill said. "We practiced well today and we’re in good spirits. Our guys are going to finish this thing out."
SDSU's offense is another story. The Aztecs average 72.5 points per game on 44 percent shooting.
Senior Xavier Thames has led the Aztecs with 17 points per game, and he's been especially solid in the clutch. The 6-foot-3 guard had 31 points against the Aggies earlier this season, including a 3-point dagger with less than a minute to go in overtime.
“He’s done that a lot. It’s not just us," Morrill said. "He’s kind of bailed them out when they’ve been in a situation where they could lose. He’s definitely the guy to be aware of if we’re in a tight game. We better be aware of him the whole night. He’s an outstanding point guard, making their whole thing go."
Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. MST.
“I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out that it’s going to be a challenge," Morrill said. "It should be exciting. It should be fun."
Tavin Stucki is a senior journalism student at Utah State University and editor-in-chief of The Utah Statesman, the Aggie campus newspaper. Twitter: @DesNewsAggies @StuckiAggies