DENVER — There is no time to dwell on what just happened.
The sting of seeing a 13-game winning streak come to a crashing halt Thursday night at New Mexico State must be in the rear view mirror. That’s because the Utah State men’s basketball team faces another stiff challenge this afternoon.
The Aggies (14-2, 5-1 Western Athletic Conference) take on a red-hot Denver (10-7, 6-1) squad at Magness Arena. Tipoff is set for 4:30 p.m.
“They (Pioneers) are a great team and run their offense like a machine,” USU guard Preston Medlin said. “It will be another tough game for us on the road. We’ll see what we are made of there.”
Denver has won six straight and annihilated San Jose State on Thursday night, 73-37. After dropping their WAC opener at Louisiana Tech, 68-60, the Pioneers have been rolling. They did have a close win at Idaho, 55-49, but the other five league victories have been by double digits.
“We’re going to have to really be with it mentally,” USU head coach Stew Morrill said. “We can’t sit and feel sorry for ourselves or we won’t have a chance. We are going to have to be on it mentally and know what we are in for.”
The Aggies hung tough with the other Aggies of the WAC on Thursday for a half, but got rolled over the second 20 minutes. Trailing by as many as 21, USU did hit four 3-pointers over the final five-and-a-half minutes, including three in a row to make the final score respectable, falling 64-51.
Morrill called it a “butt whupping.” The players were in full agreement and used more colorful words to describe the setback on Friday.
USU left Las Cruces, N.M., Friday morning, boarded a plan in El Paso, Texas, and flew to Denver. The team practiced Friday evening at Magness Arena.
“We just got to get better from this and learn from this,” said Aggie center Jarred Shaw, when asked about moving forward after the loss. “We can’t hang our head. We’re still 14-2 and have a winning record. We have a Saturday night game against Denver. If we are not ready to play, they will beat us by 25. We just got to come ready to play.”
How do the Aggies go about forgetting the recent butt kicking?
“It’s really hard to be honest,” said Medlin, who led the team with 14 points, which was the lowest output in a WAC game this year for the junior. “... It’s tough, but we’ve got to focus in. That’s what good teams do. We’re going to have to see if we can do that.”
And it’s pretty simple. If the Aggies don’t regroup, they will be in for another long night.
“If we don’t lock in, we’ll get embarrassed,” Shaw said.
And the Aggies may not be at 100 percent. Medlin is nursing a sore wrist, which he has dealt with for a while. Forward Kyisean Reed bruised his left knee late in the game Thursday and left the contest. Reed had a noticeable limp Thursday and was limited in Friday’s practice.
Having had the second-longest active winning streak snapped, the Aggies will look to try and start another. USU had also won six in a row on the road before Thursday. Plus, with Denver ahead of them in the WAC standings, this game looms large.
Shaw said several times after Thursday’s game that the players need to “buy in” to what is being said by the USU coaching staff. If the Aggies want to stay among the leaders, a win today would certainly help.
“We’ve been living on the edge,” Morrill said. “We’ve got to improve in some areas to be competitive in conference play. We’ll bounce back.”
But it won’t be easy.
The Pioneers return four starters from a team that went 22-9 a year ago and beat USU in Logan. They are well balanced in the scoring department, as forwards Royce O’Neale and Chris Udofia are the only two averaging double figures at 12.4 and 12.3 points per game, respectively.
In the blowout against San Jose State, Denver used 13 players, and 11 scored. Udofia and guard Brett Olson led the way with 15 points each.
“This is a whole different kind of game,” Morrill said. “The last one (against New Mexico State) was about their physicality, their athletes, their size. Denver is about precision and execution. They beat San Jose by about 40. They are the epitome of the Princeton system offensively and defensively. That is a big challenge.”
Knowing your assignment and playing tough D for the entire shot clock is a must. Then on offense, USU will need to be patient.
Morrill was not happy Thursday, but is not about to get down on his team. He believes they still have a “chance to be good.”
USU shot 39.3 percent from the field on Thursday. That was the second-lowest of the season behind a 32.3 percent outing against Saint Mary’s, which handed the Aggies their other loss of the season.
Meanwhile, New Mexico State shot 57.8 percent. That’s the highest percentage USU has allowed in more than two years.
Denver finished the game Thursday shooting 56.3 percent and holding SJSU to 28 percent.