WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Shawn Harrison, who covers Utah State men’s basketball for the Herald Journal in Logan, Utah, on Wednesday’s game with the University of Wyoming.
Tipoff is at 7 p.m. MT at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.
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The Aggies are the hottest team in the Mountain West having won six straight. What has clicked over the last few weeks for them to play such good basketball?
I think it just took time for this young, inexperienced group to get used to one another. The win at New Mexico — even though the Lobos have been struggling — seemed to give the Aggies a big dose of confidence. Since then, they have just carried themselves differently and it shows on the court. Utah State has been shooting the ball a lot better and also getting help from the bench.
Sophomore wing Jalen Moore and redshirt freshman forward David Collette have garnered a lot of attention for Utah State — as they should. But who else has perhaps gone under the radar but been a big factor in the Aggies’ success this season?
Point guard Darius Perkins and true freshman Julion Pearre have had some big games scoring, but the most steady guy behind Moore and Collette is Chris Smith. The junior college transfer seems to hit big shots when the Aggies need one. Smith also does more than score. The guard is averaging 12.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists a game. In conference games, he is shooting 54 percent from the field and has made 51 percent of his 3-point shots.
Long-time coach Stew Morrill announced earlier this season he would retire at season’s end. How has Morrill and the team approached this as the season has progressed, and do you think Morrill remains set on retiring or perhaps coming back for one more season since he loses only one senior off this squad?
The announcement shocked everyone. I don’t think the players saw it coming and I certainly didn’t. Morrill has hinted about going out on his own terms and knowing when it was time. Lately the players have been talking about sending him out on a good note, so I think that has added to the motivation of doing all they can to do just that. As far as Morrill changing his mind, I don’t see that happening. I have wondered about that, especially during this winning streak and with basically the whole team returning next year. However, Morrill thought long and hard before making this decision and I don’t see him changing his mind.
What were some of your biggest takes from Utah State’s 56-44 win over Wyoming in Logan on Jan. 27, and what do you think some of the keys will be Wednesday?
It was a bit surprising that Utah State outrebounded Wyoming, and I really think that helped limit the Cowboys second-chance points in the first meeting. That had been a weakness of this Aggies team. I was also shocked at how few free throws both teams attempted. It seemed Larry Nance Jr., was a bit off, and Josh Adams certainly struggled. The Aggies have played pretty good defense, especially at home. Offensively, Utah State got another balanced effort and help from the bench. The keys in this match-up will be how well the Aggies can defend Adams again, and if Nance can get rolling. Wyoming will have to be aware of Utah State’s ability to get open looks from 3-point range, but also keep an eye on the paint where Collette, who leads the conference in field goal percentage at 58.4 percent, is a force.
How does this game unfold and who wins?
Having won at the Pit and at Boise State, this Aggie team has learned what it takes to win on the road. Utah State has played well in the second half all season long. If the Aggies get a good start and are close late in the game, I think they have what it takes to run their winning streak to seven.
Cowboys game day
Game: Utah State (18-10 overall, 11-5 Mountain West) at Wyoming (21-8, 10-6)
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Arena-Auditorium, Laramie
TV: MW Digital Network (online only)
Radio: KFBC (1240 AM) Cheyenne; KCGY (95.1 FM) Laramie
Tickets: UW Athletics Ticket Office, 877-996-3261 or gowyo.com