RENO, Nev. — Utah State is betting it can build some Mountain West Conference momentum this week with a pair of road games in Reno and Las Vegas.
The Aggies roll the dice first against Nevada tonight at 8 p.m. MST at Lawlor Events Center.
Against the Wolf Pack, Utah State coach Stew Morrill's biggest concern is the battle of the boards.
“Rebounding is our weakness and it is their strength, so it is a bad combo,” Morrill said. “AJ West himself is averaging almost nine offensive rebounds a game in league (8.5 rpg), almost nine, and he blocks four shots every game (4.3 bpg). His stats are incredible, if you look at them. He is unbelievable, but their whole team is plus-six or seven on the boards (in league play).
“Sometimes it appears their best offense is a missed shot, just because they are so good on the offensive glass. Like I say, that's not been anything close to a strength of ours and that's probably going to be a big part of the game.”
West (11.7 ppg) leads a trio of Nevada players who average double figures, alongside sophomore guard D.J. Fenner (11.3 ppg) and junior guard Marqueze Coleman (10.8 ppg).
The Aggies' leading scorer, Jalen Moore (15.6 points per game), is also their best rebounder at 7.1 per game, ranking him fourth in the conference.
The Wolf Pack (6-10, 2-2 MWC) will be well rested after a week off, while USU (10-7, 3-2) is looking for its first back-to-back road wins of the year after a 71-59 victory Saturday at Air Force.
Junior guard Chris Smith was named USU's athlete of the week after scoring 20 points, including six 3-pointers, and tying his career high with five assists against the Falcons.
The Aggies — last in the Mountain West in rebounding margin (minus-8.6 rpg) — grabbed a mere three offensive rebounds against Air Force, but that was a small price to pay for hitting a season-high 13 treys while going 13 of 23 from 3-point range (56.5 percent).
“It might have been a little deceptive because we shot such a high percentage,” Morrill said. “But, it is like if we are within five (in rebounding margin) it is a victory for us. That sounds bad, but against Nevada that may certainly be the case.
“We are pretty good shooting team, we take care of the ball, we're solid defensively, and if we can do all those other things and somehow make the rebound margin not so huge, there are three or four more wins there if we can rebound the ball.
“Hopefully were not saying that tomorrow night after the game, If only we would have rebounded the ball.” It is like a broken record,” said Morrill. “It was a huge point of emphasis in practice, in our scouting report and everything else.”
USU leads the MWC in long-range accuracy, hitting 39.3 percent from beyond the arc, while Nevada, looking to snap a two-game losing skid, leads the league in rebounds per game (40.6).
The Aggies won their last meeting with the Wolf Pack at home but have bad memories of their previous trip to Reno, a 62-54 loss on Jan. 22, 2014.
“Last year we were just horrible, just horrible,” Morrill said. “There was no semblance of good basketball. We missed shot after shot after shot and it was just a game that we didn't play well. We'll need to play a lot better than that, that is for sure.”
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