Since Big West Conference play began Jan. 4, Utah State has lost only one home game, that in overtime to league champion UNLV. The Aggies routed second-place Santa Barbara by 16 in their last home game two weeks ago.
Tonight in the Spectrum, in front of some of the greatest names in Utah State basketball history, who will be on campus for a reunion of former coach Ladell Andersen's teams, the Aggies face probably the last real threat to their home record.Neil McCarthy's third-place New Mexico State Aggies (9-5, 17-6) have made themselves at home in the Spectrum the last two years, winning by eight in both 1989-90 and '90-91, and they have a 7-4 road record that is that bad only because their last two away games were at UNLV and Santa Barbara.
USU's home season ends next Saturday when Fresno visits, but the Bulldogs are currently 2-8 on the road.
Some luck has already befallen fifth-place (8-7, 14-10) Utah State this week. While New Mexico State played the 10 p.m. Big Monday TV game at Santa Barbara and lost, USU has been off since last Saturday's 84-79 win at San Jose, only its second road win of the league season.
"We've had a good week of practice," says USU coach Kohn Smith, who was even able to give his players a luxurious day off. "It is nice to be able to work on some things. It's a long season."
Foremost of the preparation list was working on zone offense. "You've got to be able to shoot from outside (against the NMS zone), but they also trap you," Smith says. "You've got to have an inside-outside game."
The NMS Aggies also generate a lot of steals with point guard Sam Crawford one of the league's leaders.
USU's shooting percentages haven't been good lately with Kendall Youngblood, Carlito DaSilva and Jay Goodman all off their offensive games at times.
Smith says the coaching staff has been able to work this week with Youngblood and DaSilva.
New Mexico State is one of the league's best-leaping, best-rebounding teams, and Smith says that's what ultimately beat USU in Las Cruces on Feb. 10. "They got a lot of rebound baskets is how they beat us," he says. Malcolm Leak ranks third in BWC rebounding at 7.6 a game, tied with USU's Youngblood.
Crawford's the league's top assist man at 8.4 a game. USU's Malloy Nesmith has fallen off on his assists lately, averaging 4.8, and that was another concern in this week's practices. "He just has to look more to make the pass; he's done that in practice," Smith says.