LAS VEGAS — Utah State has already beaten Colorado State twice this season, but the Aggies will have to defeat the Rams a third time if they want to advance at their first-ever Mountain West Conference basketball tournament.
The Aggies tip off against the Rams Wednesday at 3 p.m. MDT at the Thomas & Mack Center in the opening game of the men’s tournament. The winner goes on to face No. 1 seed and No. 8-ranked San Diego State on Thursday at 1 p.m.
The Aggies won their last two games to finish at 7-11 in the MWC and are 17-13 overall going into the game against the Rams, who also finished 7-11 and are 16-15 overall. Even though his team has beaten the Rams twice already this season, USU coach Stew Morrill knows it will be a challenge to make it three in a row.
“It’s an old saying for a reason,’’ he said. “It’s hard to beat a team three times that is basically even with us in the standings. I’m very aware of the job (Colorado State coach) Larry Eustachy does, and I like this Colorado State team. The only way you can disprove the old theory, 'It’s hard to beat a team three times,' is to go out and beat them three times.’’
The Aggies are led by center Jarred Shaw and forward Spencer Butterfield, who were both named MWC honorable mention this week. Shaw leads the team in scoring (14.4 ppg) and rebounding (8.5 rpg), while Butterfield averages 13.3 ppg and 6.2 rpg.
Other likely Aggie starters are guard Preston Medlin (12.6 ppg), forward Kyle Davis (9.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and guard TeNale Roland (5.4 ppg).
The Rams are led by junior forward J.J. Avila (16.8 ppg), junior guard Daniel Bejarno (16.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and guard Jon Octeus (13.3 ppg). The Rams will be without starting forward Gerson Santo, who was lost to a career-ending broken left hand in CSU's season finale against Wyoming on Saturday.
For Morrill, this is a new experience coming in as the No. 8 seed without many expectations after being one of the favorites most years in the Big West and WAC tournaments.
“Obviously, it’s a huge challenge having to win four nights, but conference tournaments are interesting events,’’ Morrill said. “Lots of things often happen, and we’re going to have to pull off some upsets to keep on playing. Certainly our first challenge is Colorado State, and we know fully what they’re capable of doing. I think we’re excited to go down there and see what we can do.”
The game will not be televised, but will be streamed live on the Mountain West Network, which can be accessed at UtahStateAggies.com.
USU NOTES: This marks the 90th all-time meeting between USU and CSU, who were both members of the old Mountain States Conference in the 1940s through the early 1960s. The Aggies hold a 54-35 advantage in the series. ... In the two earlier games this year, the Aggies won 57-50 in Logan and 71-62 in Fort Collins, Colo. ... Not only is USU's Morrill a former Colorado State coach, but CSU’s Eustachy is a former head coach at Utah State (1993-98). ... After the USU-CSU game Wednesday, Fresno State takes on Air Force in the 7-10 game and Boise State will play San Jose State in the 6-11 game at 8 p.m. MDT.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company