The last time Southern Utah (4-2) played basketball in this state, the T-Birds set 15 school/Marriott Center/Cougar Classic records by scoring 140 points in defeating South Alabama in the consolation game of last weekend's tourney. The T-Birds pushed BYU for three quarters in the opener before losing 82-67.

The last time Utah State (2-1) played an NCAA opponent, Dec. 1, it generated statewide notoriety for dismantling Brigham Young 83-69 on local TV.Tonight at 7 in Salt Lake's Delta Center in a festivity the host Aggies call "Holiday Hoopla," these two intriguing clubs will clash for the very first time. With no rematch scheduled, bragging rights between Utah's most far-flung universities hinge on this game, the only appearance of the season for either in the state's biggest city.

USU coach Larry Eustachy was wary of the T-Birds even before his lineup shrank by two players in the last week. USU has but nine bodies including center Nate Wickizer and his bum ankle, guard Corwin Woodard and his sore knee and forward/offensive tackle Novich Hunter and his deficit of basketball conditioning. "He's our secret weapon," Eustachy says.

The biggest blow came Thursday when backup point guard Covington Cormier rushed to Philadelphia due to a family tragedy. Cormier is sixth in the Big West Conference in assists (3.7) in only 19.7 minutes a game. Point guard Jarobi Kemp has been dismissed from the team.

Despite Southern Utah's ability to run and rain three-pointers with its motion offense, Eustachy says he is not worried about depth.

Depth is the only thing Eustachy's not worried about. He says SUU has more experience, equal talent and, he says, "It's their biggest game of the year. They'll have the mental edge for sure."

SUU senior Sean Allen concerns Eustachy most. The versatile 6-foot-8 forward started his career at Arizona and changed to Dixie College before leading T-Bird scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking last season. He scores 17 per game.

Senior point guard Keith Berard is Eustachy's other big worry. He averages 18 points, six assists.

The Aggies counter with the graceful Silas Mills (16.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg), the Big West's most-accurate shooter at .581, and the rugged 6-7 Eric Franson (15.3 ppg, 11.7 rpg), second in BWC rebounds.