Wanting to boost its basketball program with a couple of non-reciprocal home games, Utah State begins what it expects to become a tradition tonight and Thursday night when it hosts the first Gosner Foods Classic in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
The 3-2 Aggies try 7-5 Lewis-Clark State, an NAIA team from Lewiston, Idaho, in tonight's nightcap at 8. Idaho State, 6-1, plays 6-3 Chapman U., an NCAA Division III school from Orange, Calif., in the opener at 6 p.m.Thursday, Lewis-Clark meets Chapman at 6 and USU plays ISU in the 8 p.m. game to be televised by KJZZ-Ch. 14.
USU athletic director Chuck Bell says the Classic is "a huge step toward building a successful basketball program. It allows us to schedule two home games . . . that don't have to be returned on the road." It also lets Ag players stay in Logan for the holidays, rather than traveling to someone else's tournament. In the future, the Classic is expected to play host to some bigger-name teams and to become a tournament with a champion crowned.
This is the first Aggie invitational since the Big Blue Classic in 1982-83. It signals the start of a busy schedule for USU, which was inactive for 16 days earlier this month. The Aggies host Boise State Monday in a 10:30 p.m. game and open Big West Conference play Jan. 2 and 5 at San Jose State and Pacific.
Utah State personnel problems that started, well, in August with the football team, are still in vogue. Center Nate Wickizer, who finally returned to the lineup following a long-term ankle sprain, has been ill with stomach flu since Saturday and hasn't practiced, and forward Maurice Spillers has been home in California because his father was in an automobile accident. He may be available but hasn't practiced.
The first time USU met Lewis-Clark State was last season, a 66-53 Ag win.
The Ags are led by 6-7 Eric Franson, scoring 20.7 points a game after his career-high 30 in the loss to Utah Friday. He gets 11.8 rebounds, shoots 63 percent from the field and, in his last three games, averaged 23.3 points, 13.3 rebounds and 69 percent accuracy. "Franson is perhaps the best-kept secret in college basketball," says Aggie coach Larry Eustachy.
Eustachy knows Lewis-Clark well after three years coaching up the road at Idaho before coming to USU. He says the Warriors are well-coached by George Pfeifer. "They'll get after you for 40 minutes," he says. L-CS allows but 70 points a game. Its best player is 6-0 guard Lonnie Perteet of Flint, Mich., averaging 22.1 points and 4.3 rebounds. He's taken 96 three-pointers in 12 games. The Warriors have a Utahn on their starting five, 6-5 forward Jason Torgerson of Koosheram. The Warriors fell 74-65 at Weber State Nov. 28 and 74-42 at Utah Nov. 29.
Idaho State has a three-game win streak (Western Montana, Montana Tech, Cal State-Sacramento) and is led by 6-9 center Jim Potter (19.1, 8.3).