Two teams from Idaho not small potatoes as USU seeks perfection
By Wade Denniston
After all the Aggies (14-0 Big West, 23-5 overall) have already established school records this year for best conference start, quickest team to reach the 20-win plateau, most road wins in a row (currently eight) and the best February month ever (8-0, breaking the 7-1 mark set by the 1993-94 team).
However, with two games left in the regualr season, there is still another record looming on the horizon for Utah State.
The Aggies, who are picking up steam in both the AP poll (ranked 29th) and USAToday/ESPN coaches poll (30th), can become only the third team to go through Big West play without a loss.
The other two teams to accomplish that feat were the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (five times under the direction of Jerry Tarkanian) and Long Beach State University, which accomplished it twice with Tarkanian and once with Lute Olsen (1973-74), who is now the head coach of third-ranked University of Arizona.
In order for USU to do it, it will have to contend with its two Eastern Division foes of the BWC from the Gem State, the University of Idaho (Thursday night at 7:05) and Boise State University (Saturday night at 7:05), which will be senior Troy Rolle's final home game.
But for right now, the Aggies are solely keying on the Vandals (6-8, 12-14), whose record is a bit misleading, according to USU head coach Stew Morrill.
"Their record is so deceiving," Morrill said. "They could be at 11, 12 wins, if some close games had gone their way."
Regardless, Idaho is looking forward to the challenge of playing the hottest team in the country right now.
"A championship team has a coach's philosophy and a team philosophy, and they happen to be the same," said Idaho head coach David Farrar.
"When they get sideways, they work and fuss and do everything they have to do to get back on the same page. I think (Utah State) has done a better job of it than anybody in the league...I'm tickled that they continued their unbeaten streak.
"Their team certainly deserves a big hand and compliments for uniting and being together. Their coach and coaching staff have done an excellent job with that group."
Farrar also said he knows the Aggies could be beat.
"It's a beatable teamnot necessarily by us, but by someone," he said. "We will relish the opportunity to go into a very difficult circumstance -- perhaps the best in the league -- and see what we can do."
And Morrill agrees USU can be beaten at any given time, including at home, where the Aggies are 13-1 this season (51-3 vs. the last 54 opponents).
"I agree whole-heartedly, and I have all along," he said. "We can get beat any night out, and I think that's what Dave was saying. . . I heard Rick Majerus say earlier this year, when we were playing (the University of Utah), and we had beaten them the year before so we had their attention, We don't automatically win because we have Utah on our chest.'
"I think the same thing's said, 'You don't automatically win because your at home.' That would be a really poor assumption."
The Aggies lead the overall series with the Vandals, 11-9, including the 67-60 victory Jan. 30 at the Kibbie Dome, in Moscow. Morrill knows how close USU came to losing the first contest with Idaho, and how important it will be not to overlook the Vandals the second time around.
"I watched the Idaho tape (Monday) and with two and one-half minutes to go, they score and go up one," Morrill said. "The thing that we need to do that we'll talk about it today is just because we are playing at home, Don't automatically think that's a W.'
"We need to know better than that. We need to know that we're going to have to play to win."
And one of the things the Aggies will have to do to ensure their 15th straight victory is guard against the Vandals' athleticism, especially senior guard Gordon Scott, who had a game-high 19 points in the first meeting this season.
"I think Idaho has as good of athletes as anybody in the league," Morrill said. "I mean, explosive-type athletes."
However, playing in Logan has been a difficult task for the Vandals, who have never won here (0-3), unless they did it prior to the 1958-59 season, when detailed records survive.
But, Idaho nearly won on the Spectrum floor last year, as USU was
able to escape with a slim, 68-67 victory.