Scott Layden, the Utah Jazz's astute VP of basketball operations, is almost legendary for his noncommittal, poker-faced answers to most media questions about players and draft picks.

So on Saturday night in USU's Spectrum pressbox, when Layden shot backward in his chair with a big, incredulous smile on his face - looking like a real fan who's just seen a great move - well, it was pretty obvious something special had just occurred on the court.Layden had made the 90-mile trip from Jazzland to Aggieville to take his first look at Long Island University's Charles Jones, the 1996-97 NCAA scoring champion who is again atop this season's NCAA list with a 31-point game average. And Jones was as advertised, scoring 38 against Utah State, 28 of it in the final 16 minutes in a losing cause.

But Layden's reaction was not for something Jones did.

Layden's uncharacteristic response was to an incendiary reverse stuff by Utah State 6-foot-3 senior Kevin Rice after he rebounded his own missed free throw and was seemingly pinned on the baseline with 3:15 left in a game that would soon become USU's 14th straight home victory (100-84).

"It's the best dunk I've seen all year," said Layden by phone from his Delta Center office Monday morning.

"It was one of those deals where he jumped up there - it was almost like he was out of nowhere, it happened so quick," said Layden. "He came on the baseline underneath the basket and exploded up. At his size, and it happened so quick, is what got everybody's attention."

"I just followed my shot and got the rebound," said Rice. "When I got it, it was like everything spread out; everything was clear. When I was going up, I didn't quite have my balance on the right side, so I switched to the opposite side."

"You about lost your arm in the basket," someone pointed out.

"I almost lost my body," said Rice, who scored 18 of his career-high 23 points in the second half, including nine in a 2 1/2-minute period from 4:48 to 2:19 to increase USU's lead from 19 to 25 points in the face of Jones' outburst. The Aggies had once led by 34.

BASKETBALL JONES: Of LIU's Jones, Layden said, "He was unbelievable in the second half. You get a guy like that come into the state, you've got to go by and see him."

ALL A-BOARD: Layden was also high on USU. "First of all, I've always been impressed with Larry (Eustachy) as a coach. And the team - the team was terrific. Johnson, I couldn't believe the 17 rebounds," said Layden about the first-half board total by Aggie junior Donnie Johnson, who finished the game with 20 rebounds and 20 points.

USU outrebounded the Blackbirds 50-23. The Ags also dominated the paint - of their 62 shots, 45 were taken from inside the paint (32 makes), and 27 of them were labeled "layups" on the official shot chart. "We love to be pressed," said Eustachy.

HOME SWEET HOME: The Aggies' last home loss was Dec. 14, 1996, to Colorado State, which pops up on their schedule as their next road game on Jan. 3. They have won 15 of their last 17 home games and are 51-12 in the Spectrum under Eustachy.

The LIU game was the first of four in a row at home. The Ags host Weber State Saturday night and the Gossner Classic on Dec. 30 and 31. That's a change from original scheduling, which had the Gossner games on Dec. 29 and 30; USU's participation in the Dec. 29 Humanitarian Bowl in Boise forced the change.