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USU: NEXT UP FOR AGS IS LEAGUE-LEADING LONG BEACH.

SHARE USU: NEXT UP FOR AGS IS LEAGUE-LEADING LONG BEACH.

This can't be good. Utah State finally pulls off a strong win over a good team (78-63 over third-place UC-Santa Barbara), and next up is the Long-faced Beach boys, who're battling for the Big West title but have just lost two straight after a six-game win streak.

"They're going to be a very tough team to catch right now," says USU coach Larry Eustachy, noting CSULB's losses to No. 1 UC-Irvine Monday at home and Thursday, 76-73, at Nevada.The 49ers haven't lost three in a row; from their two-game losing streaks, they came back with 101-52 and 76-63 wins.Long Beach (9-5, 14-9) is at USU (7-6, 13-12) tonight at 7 in the Smith Spectrum. Last time they met, Jan. 18 in the Pyramid, Long Beach whacked the Aggies 80-73 thanks to 21 USU turnovers and 13 Long Beach steals.

USU made 48 turnovers in two losses last week but cut that to 15 for Santa Barbara. Long Beach, however, is the league's John Stockton, leading the Big West at 9.5 steals a game with point guard Rasul Salahuddin the BWC's top thief (3.4 a game) and forward Juaquin Hawkins second (2.2). The Ags beat UCSB's press, but the 49ers will be better.

The 'Niners are the league's most-talented club. James Cotton's the BWC's top scorer (20.5) and on five BWC top-10 lists; Salahuddin leads in steals, is third in assists and ninth in 3-point percentage; Akeli Jackson's fourth in rebounding, Marcus Johnson's fifth in blocks, Hawkins second in steals. At Nevada, reserve Jamie Davis scored 20 points; against USU, center Brian Yankelevitz had 11 points, 10 rebounds.

The Ags played decently at CSULB, up one at half. But from 44-44, Long Beach went up 11 on four turnovers and two fouls and kept it that way as late at 67-56 with more of the same. USU got no closer than five at the end.