LOGAN, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – The Aggies are playing their best basketball of the year, and they are moving up the Mountain West Conference Standings.
Sam Merrill scored 20 points, as Utah State cruised to itts sixth straight victory, pounding UNLV, 82-65. The win streak matches its longest in the Mountain West since joining the conference in 2013-14.
Neemias Queta had 10 points and 16 rebounds, as the Aggies improved to 17-5 overall and 7-2 in the Mountain West, tied for second place with Fresno State and one game behind #8 Nevada.
The 17 wins this season under head coach Craig Smith are the third-most by a first-year head coach in school history. The school record is 22 victories by LaDell Andersen during the 1961-62 season.
“First of all, that’s a great win for our program,” Smith said. “They have a good team. They’re very young, they’re athletic and can do a lot of things to you. I thought our guys played with great force tonight. From the opening tip we were really aggressive and in attack mode all night.”
Utah State shot 49.2 percent from the field (30-of-61), including 43.5 percent from beyond the arc (10-of-23), but just 54.5 percent from the free throw line (12-of-22).
With his three blocks against UNLV, Queta is now tied for fourth all-time in school history in single-season swats. He is three away from tying the record of 59 held by Shawn Daniels, who accomplished the feat during the 2000-01 campaign. Queta is also tied for 13th all-time on the career blocks list.
Diogo Brioto had 15 points, five rebounds and three assists off the bench. Utah State’s reserves outscored UNLV’s bench, 28-16.
“I thought it was a great game defensively,” Merrill said. “Focusing on our keys, our keys were to get back in transition defense and keep them off the offensive boards. I don’t know how many they scored in transition, but it wasn’t a lot, and they only had nine offensive rebounds.”
The Aggies limited UNLV to just 36.8 percent shooting from the field (21-of-57), marking the 14th time this season Utah State has held its opponent to less than 40 percent shooting.
Utah State outrebounded UNLV 44-32 and scored 10 points off of 11 Runnin’ Rebel turnovers.
“I thought we had an amazing night from start to finish,” Brito said. “We came out strong, had a good run. Eventually we kind of slacked, but we were able to get another run toward the end. We got that separation and never looked back.”
Utah State will now open a two-game road swing on Tuesday, Feb. 5, when the Aggies take on Fresno State at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif.