As Utah State plays its third straight road contest tonight against San Jose State, the Aggies will look to keep the Spartans off a part of their own court: The paint.
How key is the interior battle tonight? In the last match-up, San Jose scored 32 of its 60 points in the paint and shot only a pair of 3-pointers. Twenty of those points came on putbacks, tip-ins or other second chances.
The Spartans actually have the lowest shooting percentage (38.7 percent) in the Western Athletic Conference. They only shoot 31.7 percent from 3-point range. In their WAC schedule, SJSU has only scored 58.6 points per game, and have scored fewer than 55 points five times during James Kinney's seven-game suspension.
The Aggies had to adjust their gameplan a bit at the start of their last contest against SJSU, when news of Kinney's suspension broke only a short time before tipoff. Assuming Kinney still is suspended, expect Utah State to clamp down inside, much like they did against Louisiana Tech, Idaho and Seattle.
Kinney's shooting was one of the factors that could stretch the floor when he was active. Without him, Chris Cunningham (15 points last game) will try to squeeze inside for easy buckets, and DJ Brown (16 points last game) and Xavier Jones (14 points last game) could be the main penetration threats.
Taking away those inside opportunities will force SJSU to become a jump-shooting team something they aren't terribly comfortable with. The Aggies found success with a zone defense against Seattle and Idaho. There could be some more of the same on Friday, mixed in with some pressure.
The biggest problem for the Aggies is not having Kyisean Reed. He scored 10 points in the last game, but more importantly had four blocks and eight rebounds. His physicality on defense was needed against two of the more physical forwards in the league, Cunningham and Alex Brown.
Even on his best night, Ben Clifford probably can't replace the blocks, but he can provide the boards. It will not be the easiest match-up against taller and more athletic guys, but Clifford has shown a lot of effort recently in boxing out. Spencer Butterfield will chip in some rebounds, shooting for his fifth straight double-double.
I wrote about Jarred Shaw's toughness in today's paper - he'll have to prove he's bringing that tonight. Brown is one of the best shot-blockers in the league, so Shaw might have to work harder for his buckets. Last time, he was 5-for-10 from the field with 12 points and 10 boards, but both those numbers might have to go up.
The wild card will be foul trouble: Can the Aggies stay out of it? Shaw had four fouls in his last game, which will probably be too limiting for Utah State's center.
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon