Mountain West basketball rankings: BYU gets by Utah State
For the Nevada Appeal
Craig Smith is not going to allow one loss to ruin his opinion of his Utah State Aggies men’s basketball team.
“It’s difficult,” said Smith, after Utah State’s 68-64 loss to in-state rival BYU this past Saturday. “They’re hurting and I hurt for our team because, and I’m getting emotional here, it’s an unbelievable group of young men to coach.”
Utah State, which has now lost eight games in a row to BYU, remains at No. 2 in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings. The Aggies, which also whipped an NAIA school (Saint Katherines, 94-49) last week, are now 10-2 overall.
“They do everything we ask,” said Smith of the Aggies.
BYU held Utah State guard Sam Merrill to 11 points on 2-of-10 shooting. Merrill also missed all four of his 3-point shots. The Cougars also might have given Mountain West opponents a game plan on how to stop Merrill.
“They did a good job of just running guys at him over and over and over again,” said Smith of BYU. “I’ve got to help Sam out and get him some cleaner looks.”
Merrill and center Neemias Queta both sat out Utah State’s win over Saint Katherines because of knee soreness. Queta returned to the floor against BYU and had 11 points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes.
The 7-foot Queta, who is from Portugal, was last year’s Mountain West Freshman of the Year when he averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. Queta, though, has played just two games and 33 total minutes this season because of a knee injury suffered before the season started. He is averaging 8.5 points and 5.0 rebounds and one block a game this year.
“I’m proud of how had we fought,” said Smith, whose Aggies trailed by just 65-64 with under two minutes to play.
BYU, which left the Mountain West after the 2010-11 season, is 4-1 against Mountain West teams this year, beating Nevada (75-42), UNLV (83-50), Boise State (72-68) and Utah State and losing to San Diego State (76-71).
The Cougars were 1-3 (including an 86-70 loss at Nevada) against the Mountain West a year ago. BYU is now 13-6 against Mountain West teams since it left the conference.
“Utah State is a great team,” said BYU coach Mark Pope, who was the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year at Washington in 1992 and later won a national title with Kentucky in 1996. “I think Craig Smith is amazing for what he has done. He has guys that play hard with a ton of heart.”
San Diego State, which did not play a game last week, remains at No. 1 with a 10-0 record. The Aztecs will play San Diego Christian on Wednesday at home and at Utah on Saturday. The 11 Mountain West teams played just 13 games last week combined, losing seven. UNLV (4-7), which remained at No. 6, also did not play a game last week.
No. 3 New Mexico (10-2) beat rival New Mexico State, 69-62, in front of 14,488 fans at The Pit in Albuquerque. Carlton Bragg had 17 points and 17 rebounds to go along with four steals as the Lobos rallied from a 33-31 halftime deficit.
No. 4 Nevada (7-4) suffered a one-sided 75-42 loss at BYU. The Wolf Pack, which hosts Texas Southern on Wednesday night at Lawlor Events Center, was just 3-of-23 on threes.
The 33-point loss is Nevada’s largest since a 98-42 loss at Colorado State on Jan. 14, 2015, in David Carter’s final year as head coach. That game in Colorado Springs was also the last time the Pack scored 42 points or fewer in a game. The last time the Pack scored fewer than 42 points in a game was in a 58-40 loss at Hawaii on Dec. 29, 2001.
No. 5 Boise State (6-4) lost at Tulsa (69-56) on Wednesday and beat Alabama State (100-57) at home on Saturday. Derrick Alston scored 10 points against Tulsa and 31 on six threes against Alabama State. R.J. Williams had 31 points in the two games combined.
No. 7 Colorado State (7-6) beat South Dakota State (72-68) last Tuesday and lost to Colorado (56-48) on Friday in front of 6,629 at Moby Arena.
Nico Carvacho had 12 points and 12 rebounds against South Dakota State. Isaiah Stevens led the Rams with 10 points against Colorado. Colorado State was 2-of-22 on threes against Colorado.
“I’m disappointed but I’m not discouraged,” Colorado State coach Niko Medved said. “I’m not down. I’m more determined.”
No. 8 Fresno State (3-7) lost 69-63 in front of 3,211 fans at California’s Haas Pavilion last Wednesday and rebounded to beat Cal Poly 62-37 in San Luis Obispo on Saturday in front of a crowd of 1,965.
Nate Grimes had seven points and 14 rebounds against Cal and 23 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and two steals against Cal Poly.
“That’s the kind of basketball we want to play,” said Fresno State’s New Williams, who had 21 points against Cal and five steals against Cal Poly. “We take pride in our defense and being able to get stops and string together stops. We call them kills when we get three in a row.”
The 37 points is the fewest Fresno State has allowed in a game since a 49-36 win against Wyoming in 2013.
No. 9 San Jose State (3-8) lost 78-58 to nearby rival Stanford in a home game that attracted just 2,898 fans. The Spartans shot just 17-of-57 (30 percent) from the floor and were led by Seneca Knight (12 points) and Brae Ivey (11).
No. 10 Air Force (5-6) won a close game (79-75) at nearby Denver in front of a crowd of just 1,170. A.J. Walker (19 points), Lavelle Scottie (17) and Ryan Swan (16) led the Falcons in scoring. The two teams combined to shoot 24-of-49 (49 percent) on threes.
Mountain West teams will play a combined 19 games this week. Utah State has a couple of difficult tests at South Florida (Wednesday) and Florida (Saturday) while Boise State travels to Georgia Tech on Saturday.
The Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Dec. 16-22 . . .
1. SAN DIEGO STATE (10-0, 2-0). This week: vs. San Diego Christian (Wednesday); at Utah (Saturday).
2. UTAH STATE (10-2, 2-0). This week: at South Florida (Wednesday); at Florida (Saturday).
3. NEW MEXICO (10-2, 2-0). This week: vs. Grand Canyon (Tuesday); vs. Houston Baptist (Sunday).
4. NEVADA (7-4, 1-0). This week: vs. Texas Southern (Wednesday); at Saint Mary’s (Saturday).
5. BOISE STATE (6-4, 1-1). This week: at Georgia Tech (Sunday).
6. UNLV (4-7, 1-0). This week: vs. Pacific (Wednesday); vs. Robert Morris (Saturday).
7. COLORADO STATE (7-6, 0-2). This week: at Tulsa (Saturday).
8. FRESNO STATE (3-7, 0-2). This week: vs. IUPUI (Friday).
9. SAN JOSE STATE (3-8, 0-2). This week: at Santa Clara (Wednesday); vs. UC Riverside (Sunday).
10. AIR FORCE (5-6, 1-1). This week: vs. Johnson & Wales (Tuesday); vs. Drake (Saturday).
11. WYOMING (3-8, 0-2). This week: vs. Utah Valley (Wednesday); at Denver (Saturday).