Travel-weary Aggies singing 'On the Road Again' in Idaho; Sunday's game on ESPN2
By Wade Denniston
After two weeks of Big West Conference play, the Utah State University men's basketball team finds itself unbeaten and on top of the Eastern Division after sweeping a pair of road games in California last week. USU (4-0 Big West, 13-5 overall) has a one-game lead over New Mexico State University (3-1, 12-4).
If the Aggies hope to remain on top of the division, they'll have to do it on the road as they head north this weekend for two stops in Idaho. "It seems to me like we just got home and we're leaving again (Wednesday)," said Aggie head coach Stew Morrill. "Over the years, I've usually figured out on a lesser level maybe whatever I'm feeling, they're (the team) probably feeling as well. 'What, we've got to go on the road again?'
"The schedule is kind of odd."
Utah State's first stop will be in Boise to face Boise State University (1-3, 7-8) at the BSU Pavilion on Thursday night at 8.
Boise State comes into the game on a high note as it finally notched its first conference win of the year Saturday at the University of California at Irvine. Trailing 33-19 at the half, the Broncos shot a blistering 67 percent from the field, en route to a 53-52 squeaker.
Before beating the Anteaters, the Broncos had lost four in a row (their longest losing streak since the 1991-92 season), and six out of their last seven ballgames.
Still, Morrill says BSU is a better team than its record indicates.
"They had chances to win every game," Morrill said. "The fact they lost those games, does that make them a bad team? Not in my mind. I think they're better than their record. It's unfortunate that you can play pretty well, but all that's remembered is the L' and the W.' "You look at them beating Weber State (University) by 25, that tells you something."
The Aggies will hope to contain the Broncos' 6-foot-7, 225-pound sophomore forward, Abe Jackson, who is averaging 15.4 points per contest, as well as 4.5 rebounds. In the game against UCI, Jackson went for 17 points, while grabbing two boards.
"He's become a big-time scorer," Morrill said. "They run a lot of things for him. He's got great touch (and) can really shoot the ball."
Jackson will also provide some mismatch problems for the Aggies.
"If you put a small forward on him, he can shoot over him in the perimeter," Morrill said. "If you put a big guy on him, he has trouble getting out to him with all the screens they run for him.
"We got Troy Rolle on him at 6-2, he just can jump up and shoot it sometimes before Troy can get a hand up quick enough."
One of the better battles between Jackson and an Aggie could be when sophomore forward Brennan Ray is on the court.
"Some of our better matchups with him probably are when B-Ray is in the game," Morrill said. "That is just depending on what's happening out there."
BSU's bench could also play a factor in the game, as well.
Boise State senior forward Justin Lyons and junior guard Clint Hordemann are each averaging 9.7 points per game.
"They've been starters and they'll play the majority of the minutes," Morrill said. "It gives them more scoring power off the bench, more experience off the bench."
On the year, BSU is averaging just 58.5 points per game (last in the Big West), and has been held below 60 points 10 times this year. On the other hand, USU is allowing only 61.8 points per contest, and just 58.8 in league play. The Aggies have held 10 of their opponents to 60 points or less this year.
Last year, Utah State swept the season series from Boise State, including a 58-52 win at the Pavilion, and a 63-62 victory at the Spectrum. The Aggies have won six of the last seven games against the Broncos, with the lone loss coming in Boise on Feb. 21, 1998, 57-49. USU leads the all-time series, 12-4.
Morrill has coached in 14 games against BSU and holds an 8-6 advantage over the Broncos. He was 4-6 while at the University of Montana, and 2-0 at both Colorado State University and USU.
Morrill said he's been in some crazy games at Boise, and doesn't expect the next one to be any different.
"I've had some wild experiences in Boise," he said. "I'm sure Thursday night will be another in a long list. I've never been one of their (favorites) up there."
A win over the Broncos would give the Aggies their longest winning streak on the road (3) since the 1997-98 campaign.
After the Boise State game, Utah State will return home for a day,
then travel to Moscow, Idaho, to face the University of Idaho (1-3,
7-9) at 1 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2.