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Utah State is no longer the hottest team in the Western Athletic Conference. After the Aggies' thrashing at the hands of New Mexico State on Thursday, that distinction belongs to Denver and Louisiana Tech.
Unfortunately for the Aggies (14-2, 5-1), they're heading into Magness Arena to face the Pioneers (10-7, 6-1) on Saturday afternoon. That's no easy turnaround coming off their first defeat in two months.
It's time to find out how Utah State bounces back.
"They're a great team, and they run their offense like a machine," Preston Medlin said Thursday. "It'll be a good test on the road, and we'll see what we're made of then."
It will be a tall order. Denver is coming off a 73-37 win over San Jose State, which the Aggies edged last week. With the victory, Denver has a six-game win streak going.
The team is young, but efficient. The Pioneers don't turn the ball over much, and they don't allow many points: They are No. 7 nationally in scoring defense, which doesn't bode well for Utah State coming off its lowest output of the season.
But the more difficult aspect of facing Denver is stopping the offense. The Pioneers run a Princeton-style attack that will be as unique a system as Utah State will face all season. It gives them open looks from beyond the arc, or an all-too-easy layup.
Coach Stew Morrill had a hard time comparing the two road games this weekend. The Aggies can't just figure out what they did wrong at New Mexico State, because Denver is such a different look.
"[New Mexico State] was about their physicality, their athletes, their size, but Denver is about precision and execution," Morrill said. They're the epitome of the Princeton system. We've got to be really with it mentally. We can't be sorry for ourselves or we won't have a chance."
Denver doesn't have much size, but its frontcourt will still be a challenge. Royce O'Neale and Chris Udofia have been the two top options this season. Both are 6-foot-5 athletes who can air out for dunks and blocks.
Chase Hallam and Brett Olson are both shooting more than 40 percent from 3-point range.
But that's not to say the Aggies are punchless in the matchup. Denver's pacing also makes it one of the lower-scoring teams in the WAC, and the Pioneers are one of the poorer rebounding teams in the league.
That means Utah State will get second chances. Like the game itself, it's up to the Aggies to make the most of it.
"That'll be tough, but we've got to focus in," Medlin said. "It's what good teams do."
Utah State at Denver
O At Magness Arena (Denver)
Tipoff • Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
TV • ROOT (Comcast Ch. 52/Ch. 693 HD; Dish Network Ch. 414; DirecTV Ch. 683)
Radio • 960 AM
Records • Utah State 14-2, 5-1; Denver 10-7, 6-1
Series history • Utah State leads, 53-36
Last meeting • Denver 67, USU 54 (Nov. 30, 2011, in Logan)
About the Aggies • Utah State is coming off of its lowest scoring output to date, falling to New Mexico State 64-51. ... Preston Medlin, now the No. 4 scorer in the WAC, has scored double-digit points in his last eight games. ... Jarred Shaw has accrued six double-doubles this year, averaging 12.6 ppg and 8.4 rpg.
About the Pioneers • Denver is on a six-game winning streak, and has won nine of its last 11. ... The Pioneers allow only 54.6 points per game, good for seventh-best in the nation. ... Chris Udofia is one of the best shot blockers in the WAC, averaging 2.24 per game.