LOGAN – After taking a loss at 7,220 feet in Wyoming, the Aggies will head to sea level to visit San Diego State Saturday night. Utah State hasn’t beat the Aztec team since joining the Mountain West, but the last time the two teams met, it came down to the final minutes in a second round Mountain West Conference tournament loss in Las Vegas.
At a glance, this year’s San Diego State team is a team that is down. At 1-3, SDSU already has more conference losses than it did all of last year, but USU head coach Tim Duryea doesn’t doubt the Aztecs are still tough.
“They’ve been to some tough places in Boise and Nevada,” he said.
Duryea said the Aztecs are quick and athletic and are playing smaller than they have in recent years. The lineup has shifted a bit; guys that played the four spot a year ago are playing the five.
“They are following the trend in college basketball in playing a little bit smaller,” he said. “They shoot it better from the perimeter. They shoot a few more 3s and score it a little easier than they have in the past.”
Duryea said part of the improved 3-point shooting can be attributed to replacing last year’s senior Winston Shepard with Max Hoetzel, who is shooting 37.3 percent from the perimeter. One of the team’s best 3-point shooters, junior forward Malik Pope, has only played seven games this year due to injury, but Duryea said his team will prepare as if Pope will be in the game.
“He has been hurt for quite a while and makes a big difference with their team,” Duryea said. “He is long and gives them more size. He gives them some punch from the perimeter.”
Three players are averaging double-digit scoring for the Aztecs. Sophomore guard Jeremy Hemsley leads all with 16.2 points per game, junior guard Trey Kell is averaging 12.7 and sophomore forward Zylan Cheatham gets 11.
After Utah State’s visit to Wyoming earlier in the week, Duryea said his team played soft defense in the first half, which cost USU the game. He said his team will have to “play faster, play harder and play more clear-headed on the defensively end” if they want to beat SDSU.
“It is a must,” he said. “That is what we have to do. We can’t wait until halftime to start guarding somebody. When you come here, it is a great environment to play in. But, you need to match them with their defensive intensity and match them on the boards. Those are things that have been issues for us here in the past.”
The game is scheduled to tip off at 8 p.m. MST Saturday.