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Mountain West rankings: Utah State (finally) living up to the hype

Joe Santoro
For the Nevada Appeal
Utah State guard Sam Merrill (5) drives to the basket as Boise State center Robin Jorch (25) defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)
AP | The Herald Journal

The Utah State Aggies are finally looking like the team that was picked to win the Mountain West this season.

The Aggies moved up a spot to No. 2 in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings after beating UNLV (69-54) and Boise State (70-61) at home last week to improve to 19-7 overall and 8-5 in the Mountain West.

The Aggies, which shared the Mountain West regular-season title last year with Nevada, celebrated their 50th anniversary at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum by beating Boise behind Neemias Queta (21 points, eight rebounds), Sam Merrill (17 points) and Justin Bean (16 rebounds). Merrill now has 1,996 career points and is about to join Jaycee Carroll (2,522), Greg Grant (2,217) and Wayne Estes (2,001) as the only 2,000-point scorers in Utah State history.

The Aggies, playing in front of 10,033 fans, wore throwback uniforms on Saturday that featured a patch honoring Estes. Members of past Utah State championship teams were also at the game and were honored on Saturday.

“It was just an amazing day in so many ways,” Utah State coach Craig Smith said. “You could feel the atmosphere before the game.”

Utah State, picked by the media before the season to win the Mountain West, has now won five of its last six games. Queta might be the biggest reason for the Aggies’ surge lately. The 6-foot-11 sophomore, who missed a dozen games because of a knee injury this year, also scored a season-high 21 points in the victory over UNLV. Queta, last year’s Mountain West Freshman of the Year, also blocked five shots against Boise State and two against UNLV.

Bean had 27 rebounds in the two games last week. The Aggies, who play at Colorado State on Tuesday in a pivotal game for second place in the Mountain West, also were 30-of-35 from the free throw line against Boise State.

“At the end of the day we had to be the toughest team, we had to come together and make winning plays,” Bean said. “And we did that.”

No. 1 San Diego State remains the only unbeaten team in the nation at 24-0, 13-0. The Aztecs won at Air Force, 89-74, last week as K.J. Feagin had 21 points and five threes. The Aztecs will clinch the Mountain West regular-season title this week with victories over New Mexico (Tuesday) at home and at Boise State on Sunday.

No. 3 Colorado State (17-8, 8-4) won at Fresno State, 80-70 last Tuesday and has now won 10 of its last 12 games. The Rams got 17 points and 16 rebounds from center Nick Carvacho. Carvacho leads the Mountain West in rebounding at 10.8 a game.

“Nico was just phenomenal,” Colorado State coach Niko Medved said. “He was just a man inside and on the glass and battling like crazy.”

Nevada (15-10, 8-5) moved up a spot to No. 4 after easy wins over Air Force (88-54) and San Jose State (95-77) last week at home. Jalen Harris had a career-high 38 points against Air Force and 32 against San Jose State and was named the conference’s Player of the Week.

Harris, who leads the Mountain West in scoring (21,3 a game), has now scored 30 or more points in each of the last four games. His six 30-point games this season leads the Mountain West.

The Wolf Pack will play at UNLV on Wednesday, hoping to break a seven-game losing streak away from home.

No. 5 Boise State (16-9, 8-5) won at Wyoming (67-62) and lost at Utah State (70-61) last week. The loss to Utah State snapped a five-game Bronco winning streak. Justinian Jessup had 36 points in the two games combined last week for Boise.

No. 6 UNLV (12-13, 7-5) lost at Utah State (69-54) and beat Fresno State (68-67) at home to break a four-game losing streak. Marvin Coleman scored with just under a second to play to beat Fresno State. Amauri Hardy led UNLV with 18 points against Fresno State but also did not have a single rebound in 28 minutes.

The Rebels also beat Fresno State 81-80 in double overtime in early December.

New Mexico (17-8, 6-6) moved up a spot to No. 7 after a convincing 97-68 win over Wyoming on Saturday. The Lobos, which host Nevada on Feb. 18, had lost five of their previous six games. Three Lobos scored 20 or more points. Corey Manigault had 29 followed by Zane Martin (23) and Vance Jackson (20).

Fresno State (8-16, 4-9) dropped a spot to No. 8 after losses to Colorado State (80-70) and UNLV (68-67). The Bulldogs led UNLV 13-2 and 21-11 with eight minutes remaining in the first half.

Fresno State freshman Niven Hart, from Orlando, Fla., scored 29 points on 12-of-21 shooting against Colorado State and added 15 against UNLV. Hart had scored just 30 points in seven Mountain West games combined this season before last week.

No. 9 Air Force (9-15, 3-9) has now lost six games in a row after losing to Nevada (88-54) and San Diego State (89-74) last week. No. 10 Wyoming (6-19, 1-12) lost to Boise State (67-62) and New Mexico (97-68) last week while No. 12 San Jose State was trounced at Nevada (95-77) and has now lost six of its last seven games and three in a row.

The Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Feb. 10-16:

1. SAN DIEGO STATE (24-0, 13-0). This week: vs. New Mexico (Tuesday); at Boise State (Sunday).

2. UTAH STATE (19-7, 8-5). This week: at Colorado State (Tuesday); at Fresno State (Saturday).

3. COLORADO STATE (17-8, 8-4). This week: vs. Utah State (Tuesday); at Wyoming (Saturday).

4. NEVADA (15-10, 8-5). This week: at UNLV (Wednesday).

5. BOISE STATE (16-9, 8-5). This week: vs. Air Force (Tuesday); vs. San Diego State (Sunday).

6. UNLV (12-13, 7-5). This week: vs. Nevada (Wednesday); at New Mexico (Saturday).

7. NEW MEXICO (17-8, 6-6). This week: at San Diego State (Tuesday); vs. UNLV (Saturday).

8. FRESNO STATE (8-14, 4-7). This week: at San Jose State (Wednesday); vs. Utah State (Saturday).

9. AIR FORCE (9-15, 3-9). This week: at Boise State (Tuesday); vs. San Jose State (Saturday).

10. WYOMING (6-19, 1-12). This week: vs. Colorado State (Saturday).

11. SAN JOSE STATE (7-17, 3-9). This week: vs. Fresno State (Wednesday); at Air Force (Saturday).