GAME NOTES: The Denver Pioneers try to even their road record on Thursday night, as they visit the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum to do battle with the Utah State Aggies in Western Athletic Conference action.
Denver, which has made the transition from the Sun Belt Conference to the WAC, has done so almost seamlessly with 11 wins in 13 opportunities. Near the top of the league standings, the Pioneers are riding a four-game win streak and have won 11 of the last 12 outings overall, thanks to a 74-58 romp over Idaho at home on Saturday.
While Denver is an impressive 10-2 at home thus far, the squad is still one game under .500 on the road at 5-6.
As for the Aggies, they seem to have regained their composure following a four-game slide last month and now they are working on a three-game win streak. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that USU has won three straight on the road, the latest triumph coming at San Jose State last Friday night, 63-36.
The Pioneers won the first meeting of the season, 68-57, last month at Magness Arena, which means the all-time series now favors Utah State by a count of 53-37.
At home in the Mile High City, the Pioneers didn't appear to have any problems handling the Vandals over the weekend, the hosts scoring the first points of the afternoon and never looking back. Jalen Love scored a game-high 22 points, hitting all but one of his 10 field goal attempts, followed by Chris Udofia with 13 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals, while Royce O'Neale and Brett Olson responded with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
One of the more defensive-minded teams in the league and the country right now, the Pioneers are allowing just 52.8 ppg to league foes, forcing them into almost twice as many turnovers (200) as they have assists (101) over the course of 13 games. Udofia, who has 32 blocked shots and 20 steals in conference play, is also the leading scorer with 12.2 ppg and is second on the glass with 4.3 rpg as he proves that he can do anything he sets his mind to.
Against the Spartans, USU dialed up the pressure on defense and held the hosts to a mere 26.5 percent shooting from the floor, including 4-of-20 behind the 3-point line. Offensively, the star of the game for the Aggies was Spencer Butterfield who delivered a double-double consisting of 22 points and 10 rebounds, followed by Jarred Shaw and Marcel Davis with 12 points apiece in one of the more lopsided games of the season for USU.
Shaw, a 51.1 percent shooter from the floor in conference play, leads the group in both scoring and rebounding at the moment with averages of 13.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per contest. Butterfield is right on his heals in both departments with 13.5 ppg and 7.3 rpg as the team continues to deal with the devastating losses of Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed to injury.
Both of these teams are capable of clamping down on defense, but the side that has done it with more regularity this season is Denver, which is enough of a reason to take the visitors in this meeting.
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