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In Kyle Davis' mind, it's not about facing Wyoming with or without Larry Nance Jr.
Sure, the Utah State sophomore is willing to acknowledge the 6-foot-8 junior forward Nance is a great player, and all the Aggies felt for him when he tore his ACL last month. But for Davis and his fellow big men, facing Wyoming without Nance doesn't ease up the pressure to perform in the paint.
"We're going out much like any other game," Davis said. "You never want to see a player like Nance get hurt, but it doesn't change what we want to do. We're going to have to get in there, get rebounds and contest shots like we would against any opponent."
That quote may be a bit diplomatic considering Wyoming has lost three straight since Nance went down. Between Davis and Jarred Shaw, the Aggies should have an advantage in the paint.
Saturday's win over San Jose State showed what the Aggies can do with that advantage: Shaw had a career-high 17 rebounds. Utah State will look for their 6-foot-11 center to repeat that kind of dominance when the Cowboys come calling Wednesday night at the Spectrum.
Nance's absence should make the game profoundly different from the last meeting, when Utah State was dominated 74-57. Nance had two blocks and two steals as Shaw and Davis combined for a mere nine points and eight rebounds not exactly memorable stuff. But since Nance went down, the Cowboys have allowed at least 72 points in each loss, which is unusual for a program that likes to keep the scores low.
One thing that has improved is the guard play on the offensive end. Josh Adams scored 29 in his last outing, while Riley Grabau is shooting nearly 45 percent from 3-point range.
"We just got to take them out of their game a little bit," TeNale Roland said. "Make them take tough shots. They are still battling. They've still got a good team."
Down season hasn't hurt USU's confidence
Coach Stew Morrill said after the 75-58 win over the Spartans that he was glad his team "hadn't cashed it in." The Aggies aren't cashing it in because they still think they can get the whole register. A win over the last-place team in the Mountain West seems to have had a lifting effect.
"The motivation is to win the Mountain West Conference tournament," Davis said. "Every team is playing for that at this point. We don't necessarily think it would be a surprise to us to win it."
It would be a huge surprise to most: The Aggies are all but locked in to a first-round match with Colorado State in the 8 vs. 9 seed game in the Mountain West Tournament. Winning that would pit them against the top seed (San Diego State or New Mexico) the following day.
But just because making a big tournament splash is improbable doesn't mean it's impossible, the Aggies say.
"This game will be big for us if we get the win," Roland said. "Going into the conference tournament off a win would keep us motivated."
Wyoming at Utah State
O Wednesday, 8 p.m.
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