LOGAN, Utah — The Utah State team that hosts UNLV on Saturday is much different than the squad that suffered a 20-point blowout at the hands of the Rebels last month in Las Vegas.
Playing without forward Kyle Davis, who had just reinjured his knee, USU shot 2 of 17 from 3-point range, had 15 fewer rebounds and was blocked by UNLV nine times in the double-digit defeat.
"We're just hopeful we can play better than we did last time against UNLV," said USU head coach Stew Morrill. "They pretty much dominated the game and just took us out of a lot of different things we were trying to do. We didn't shoot the ball well, (and) they defended really well."
The loss was part of a five-game losing streak, giving Utah State a 2-7 conference record at the time and causing some Aggies to wonder if the dominance they enjoyed in the WAC and Big West would continue in this, their first season in the Mountain West.
"We finished the first half of the league in kind of a dark place," Morrill said.
Flash forward to the present, and the Aggies have found new life, riding a three-game win streak with victories over Nevada, Boise State and Colorado State.
"For the dog days of February, our guys are in a good place mentally," Morrill said. "Obviously winning helps everything, but they're playing for each other. A lot of positives the last few games, for sure."
A win Saturday would bring Morrill his 600th career victory as a head coach, but that may be too tall an order, even in the Spectrum.
However, the Rebels haven't been the most consistent team in the conference this year, sitting in third place with a 7-4 league record. UNLV has wins against Mississippi State, New Mexico and Boise State, but suffered a 75-57 loss at Colorado State on Feb. 5.
Junior guard Bryce Dejean-Jones, who played his freshman season at USC, leads the Rebels in scoring this year, putting up an average of 13.5 points with a trio of assists per game.
Junior forward Khem Birch is one of the nation's best shot blockers, averaging three a game for the Rebels. He's also second on the team in rebounding, two per game behind junior Roscoe Smith's 11.6.
Morrill said UNLV's athleticism can cause problems.
"They can speed you up and what you're trying to do," he said. "With their ability on the boards and quickness defensively, it's certainly a challenge. They play well on the road."
Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The game will be televised on CBS Sports.
"I'm trying to get used to all these weird game times in the Mountain West," Morrill said. "It screws up my nap. I know that."
Tavin Stucki is a senior journalism student at Utah State University and editor-in-chief of The Utah Statesman, the Aggie campus newspaper. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @DesNewsAggies @StuckiAggies
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