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USU hoping for improved road play

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It's obvious Utah State has learned how to win the home games, as evidenced by its 19-game home winning streak, seventh longest in the NCAA.

But the Big West Conference requires the Aggies (11-4, 2-0) and everybody else to go on the road half the time.That's where USU finds itself this week - embarking on the season's first league road trip needing to improve upon that 1-4 road record. The Aggies, with the Big West's best overall record and tied for the Eastern Division lead with three other teams, play this week at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (7-7, 0-2) and UC-Santa Barbara (3-9, 0-2). USU is 4-0 against California teams this season after beating a pair last week to open conference play.

But that was in the Spectrum.

USU's only road win was impressive, at Minnesota, a 1997 NCAA Final Four team, but the Aggies have lost at Florida State, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado State.

Oddly, since the league is based in California, the Pacific time zone becomes the fourth one in which the Ags have played this season. They've been East, Midwest and Mountain, but this is their first game in the Pacific zone since the Big West Tournament at Reno last March. To counter, CPSLO has players who hail from each of those four time zones (Georgia, Minnesota, Indiana, Nebraska, Colorado and California).

Cal Poly, which is trying to drop the San Luis Obispo part of its name, is 7-0 at home in Mott Gym, where the Aggies play for the first time. In their first-ever meeting last season in Logan, USU beat the Mustangs 85-74 with four Aggies in double-figure scoring.

The Mustangs (0-7 on the road) are the Big West's best-scoring team (83.9 ppg) and get 19.6 points a game from last year's BWC Freshman of the Year Mike Wozniak, a 3-point shooting guard, who leads the league in free-throw percentage (.887) and is second in scoring and treys per game (2.9). They are improved over last year's club with 17.2 points and 6.0 rebounds a game from 6-foot-9 freshman forward Chris Bjork-lund.

Under coach Larry Eustachy, USU's never been known as a 3-point team, but Justin Jones (.565) and Marcus Saxon (.500) rank 1-2 in the Big West in long-range accuracy. USU leads the Big West in 3-point percentage (.438), rebound margin (+9.4) and opponent rebounds (28.5) and should expand that since Cal Poly gives its opponents 41.7 rpg, second-worst in the league, and gets outrebounded by 3.1 a game. Also, with Dave Isaacson back, the Aggies have some depth inside. In his first two games since breaking a foot, Isaacson had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The Mustangs and Gauchos, whom USU plays on Saturday, may have a little bulletin-board fodder to inspire them against the Aggies. Eustachy dissed the BWC Western Division earlier this season when he complained about the BWC tournament format that invites the top four teams from each division.

Cal Poly is in its second year of NCAA Division I play and won't be eligible for the Big West Tournament for another eight years, though it could make the NCAA postseason as an at-large team if it were good enough. With the Mustangs ineligible, four of the five eligible teams in the weaker West will go to the Big West finals - an inequitable situation, in Eustachy's opinion.