Last year, when the Utah State football team beat BYU, fans tore down the goalposts and the athletic department cut them up and sold the pieces as souvenirs. In February, when the basketball team ended an 0-25 history against UNLV, athletic director Chuck Bell searched high and low for the nets that were cut down by fans, wanting to preserve them history.
Thursday night in the Spectrum - after the Aggies stunned everyone including themselves with a masterful 83-59 upset over BYU to break a 15-game losing streak to the Cougars - one net was cut down by fans who flooded the court to mob players. The other net lasted until a university official took it down.She started to hand it to Bell but told him Eric Franson wanted it. Bell looked longingly at the net, then at Franson and knew what he had to do.
"He deserves it," said Bell.
Franson, a 6-foot-7 returned-missionary junior who grew up in BYU's shadow (American Fork), had a Herculean effort against the Cougars. Franson scored 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting, many of them putbacks as he was falling over backward. He ripped 16 rebounds, blocked a shot, had two assists and shoved superb center Russell Larson, 6-11, off his game in the first half. Larson had two points, one rebound at halftime but finished with 16 and four.
"Russell is a great player," said Franson. "We concentrated on him. Coach told me before the game, `That's a huge matchup, you and Russell. You've just got to be strong.' "
The Aggies were passive in their loss Saturday at Boise State, and Franson said intensity was a team project this week. The Ags had it, and they kept it, refusing to let the Cougs back in when Larson heated up in the second half.
"Yeah, I'm really surprised we were able to stay with it the second half," said USU coach Larry Eustachy, who at halftime reminded the Aggies of their early 12-point lead and one-point loss to Weber State last year.
Eustachy originally planned to double-team Larson but instead had Franson play him straight up. "I told Franson it was going to be a 40-minute boxing match," said Eustachy, the pessimist who's often said USU won't be any good until February or March.
He insists USU will be better then, but he celebrated the win - on his 39th birthday, no less - like a kid, leaping up the tunnel to the locker room, raised fists punching at the air. "I'm going to have a birthday every day," Eustachy said.
Eustachy was quick to say USU caught BYU in mid-jet lag after last weekend's three-game Great Alaska Shootout and that the Y. was minus guard Randy Reid (broken nose). Eustachy sympathized with Cougar point guard Robbie Reid, who had to take on first rugged Roddie Anderson, then super-quick Covington Cormier. Smothered, Robbie Reid rarely had time to put the Cougars in their offense.
"I found out how much we need Randy," said BYU coach Roger Reid. "He will play Saturday," he said about the home opener against Nevada.
"We've been a little tired and had some guys with the flu," said Reid, "but I don't want to take anything away from Utah State. If Utah State continues to play like that, we'll be watching them in the Final Four."
USU was without 7-0 center Nate Wickizer (ankle sprain), whileCormier (strep throat) only played 13 minutes.
With Franson and the 6-7 Silas Mills dominating the boards in the first half, USU ran to a 45-26 lead, out-'bounding BYU 27-13. For the game, USU had 43 rebounds to BYU's 28. By halftime, Mills had 11 rebounds and 14 points. He finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds.
Only Kenneth Roberts was in sync for BYU the first half, scoring 17 of his game-high 24 points and rebounding four of his six total.
"We lost the game in the first 10 minutes," said Larson, "when we didn't rebound and the shots weren't going in."
Said Roberts, "They did well on the boards. We got one shot, and that's it."
"My only comment," said Reid, "is that they played great. They beat us in every aspect of the game. They just kicked our tail in every way."
And USU got nearly every break. "Sometimes it's there; sometimes it's not. We just did what we do in practice, and it worked," said Franson, who put in his share of strangely accurate off-balance shots. Others made spin-move beauties or three-pointers from four-point range.
"That makes it hard to come back and keep going when you're playing good defense and those shots keep going in," said Roberts.
Those things let Eustachy know it would be a special evening. "When Franson was falling out of bounds and made the shot - for the fifth time - I knew it was going to be our night," said Eustachy.
"I can't describe it," said Franson of a win that was emotionally charged for him and the only other Utah-grown Aggie to play, Jon Wickizer, who had nine points. "It was amazing. It was, uh, nice," stammered Franson.
USU hosts Son's Blue Angels in an exhibition game Dec. 10 and Southern Utah at the Delta Center Dec. 17.