University of Washington

What you need to know about Utah State, the Huskies’ first-round NCAA Tournament opponent

The Washington Huskies play Utah State in first round of NCAA tournament

The Washington Huskies made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011. They play Utah State on Friday in Columbus, Ohio.
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The Washington Huskies made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011. They play Utah State on Friday in Columbus, Ohio.

Washington received its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2011 on Sunday.

The No. 9 seed Huskies will open against eighth-seeded Utah State on Friday in Columbus, Ohio. The game will tip at 3:50 p.m. (PST) and will be broadcast on TNT.

For the next few days, UW will focus on learning about the Aggies, who will also be playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011.

Here are three things to know about the Huskies’ first-round opponent:

1. They’re champions with a quality resume

The Aggies (28-6, 15-3) won the Mountain West regular season and tournament championships.

Utah State put together a seven-game winning streak early in conference play. San Diego State snapped that stretch with a 68-63 victory on Feb. 8, but the Aggies haven’t lost since then. They will enter the NCAA Tournament on a 10-game winning streak.

UW and Utah State had one common opponent this season in Arizona State. Both teams fell to the Sun Devils. The Huskies lost 75-63 on the road, while the Aggies fell 87-82 in Las Vegas. Utah State split its conference games against Nevada, a team the Huskies defeated in an exhibition.

The Aggies have an RPI of 28 and a NET ranking of 29. They went 3-2 against Quadrant 1 opponents, 2-3 against Quadrant 2, 9-1 against Quadrant 3 and 13-0 against Quadrant 4. Their non-conference strength of schedule ranks 23rd in the country.

Utah State has made 21 NCAA Tournament appearances, most recently in 2011. It went to three straight NCAA Tournaments from 2009-2011. The Aggies’ last tournament victory came in 2001 when they upset Ohio State 77-68 in overtime before falling to UCLA.

UW and the Aggies have met once before in the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies won, 75-71, in 2006.

2. This match-up has all the makings of a defensive battle

UW is coming off a Pac-12 championship loss to Oregon, a game that featured the top two defenses in the conference. The Ducks got the better of that match-up. Now, the Huskies will be facing another strong defense in Utah State.

The Aggies have one of best field-goal percentage defenses in the country. They are holding teams to 39.3 percent from the field, which ranks No. 11. UW is allowing teams to shoot 41.2 percent, which ranks No. 50.

The Huskies have the No. 26 scoring defense in the country (64.0 points per game). Utah State gives up 66.8 points per game, which is 58th.

The Aggies held San Diego State to 25 second-half points in their 64-57 victory in the Mountain West tournament championship. The Aztecs went just 10-of-37 (27 percent) from the field and 3-of-17 (17.6 percent) from the 3-point line in the second half.

2. Like UW, Utah State racked up a few conference awards.

Head coach Craig Smith was named the Mountain West Coach of the Year in his first season leading the Aggies. Smith was previously the head coach at South Dakota from 2014-2018. Utah State finished 17-17 last season before Smith took over.

Junior guard Sam Merrill was named the conference Player of the Year. Merrill averages 21.2 points, 4.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. He also shoots 46.5 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from the 3-point line.

Center Neemias Queta, who is 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds, was named the Defensive Player of the Year and the Freshman of the Year. Queta averages 11.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.

Oregon’s Kenny Wooten had four blocks in the Ducks’ most recent win over the Huskies, and his presence prevented UW from scoring inside. Queta is also a quality shot blocker — he averages 2.4 blocks per game — and that will be a concern for the Huskies.