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PLAYOFFS GIVE AGGIES CHANCE TO REDEEM `A HUMILIATING LOSS'

To open the Big West Conference tournament Friday at 2 p.m. MST, fourth-seeded Utah State (16-11, 10-8) drew an opponent with a lesser reputation but also one that inflicted the most humiliating loss of the season on the Aggies just three weeks ago.

The Pacific Tigers, seeded fifth at 12-15, 8-10, ripped the Aggies by 22 on Feb. 20. The loss at Pacific, in which USU was as bad as it can be, made the Ags feel worse.And that's good for the tournament, says coach Kohn Smith.

The tourney championship is Sunday at 1:30 p.m. MST in Long Beach Arena. USU's Friday tourney opener is followed by these quarterfinals: second-seeded New Mexico State vs. Fresno (No. 7), 4 p.m. MST; Irvine (No. 8) vs. No. 1 Santa Barbara, 8; No. 6 Fullerton vs. No. 3 Long Beach, 10. Saturday's semifinals have the USU/Pacific and Irvine/UCSB winners meeting at 8 p.m. MST and the CSF/LBS and FSU/NMSU winners at 10.

If USU plays as well as it's capable, the Aggies probably have more talent and depth than any team in the tourney. USU has not played strongly team-wise in a month. It showed cohesive signs in its final regular-season game, a 70-62 win over Fresno Saturday, when Jay Goodman and Carlito DaSilva returned to form and Malloy Nesmith had eight assists in 24 minutes.

The Ags have trouble with Pacific's speed, which shows in offense and rebounding. "They have size we just don't have, so we have to do it with quickness," says coach Bob Thomason.

Having Rod Hay, a 6-foot-8 sophomore leaper, will help USU, says Smith. Hay scored nine and got seven rebounds at Pacific, the only bright spot of the night, but that was his first long-term duty. He has since started some games. "Hay gives us a quicker defense and rebounding game," Smith says.

The Tigers spread the floor on the Aggies and use the shooting of guards Dell Demps, this week's Big West Player of the Week (two games, 38 points), and Tony Amundsen, who combined for 45 last game. "They're man-to-man, and we have to take advantage of that," Thomason says.

At Pacific, Kendall Youngblood had the worst shooting night of his career, 2-for-15. "The key was (Robert) Richardson guarding Youngblood," says Thomason.