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Aggies face a tough task

Of all the 23 straight games that Utah State's basketball team has won at home, the very closest was Jan. 24 against Idaho - Larry Eustachy's old team, a team that's rebuilding again under its third new coach since he left five years ago.

During the 23-game home streak, USU had some three-point wins last season, and it beat BYU by three this season.But Idaho? It was a two-pointer (68-66). The Aggies, still first in the Big West Conference Eastern Division at 19-6, 10-2, were down by five or so for the middle 14 minutes of the game and didn't take a second-half lead until 3:19, when a Kevin Rice free throw made it 61-60.

Tonight, after disappointing showings last week at Irvine (sloppy 60-51 win) and at Nevada (73-62 loss), the Aggies have to play the 13-9, 7-5 Vandals again, at 8 MST at the Kibbie Dome, where they've won three straight and are 10-1 for the season. Only Western Division-winner Pacific has beaten the Vandals in the Dome of the Pa-louse.

Idaho is also coming off a road loss, but it was a last-second loss at New Mexico State, where USU lost by 15 two weeks ago. USU is bidding for the division title and its third 20-win season in the last four. Idaho is fighting for a berth in the league tournament.

Both teams need a win, and USU really needs to play well again because its shooting, rebounding and defense have all gone south for a little vacation.

With Dave Isaacson gone (broken foot bone), USU is thin up front. And Marcus Saxon's scoring went from 18.0 a game through the first 20 to 11.2 a game in the last five as he tries to finish off his college career with a torn meniscus in his left knee and a deep right-calf bruise.

Tonight, Saxon meets his friend and fellow point guard Avery Curry (19.5 ppg), who scored 28 in Logan and may rival Saxon as the league's best at the position.

Idaho had an advantage over USU with 6-foot-5 forward Mao Tosi, a 270-pound Alaskan who's helped the Vandals be the top-rebounding team (38.3) in conference games. The Aggies found him immovable as he blocked out and set picks.

"We probably put our best foot forward in that game. We probably did every little thing in terms of adjustments," says Vandal coach David Farrar. "There's not a lot left for us to do. So I think that gives Utah State an opportunity to make some adjustments back."

USU did that some, stopping 3-point shooter Kris Bauman, second in Vandal history in attempts (410) and makes (140), trailing only Orlando Lightfoot (179) in makes. Lightfoot was Eustachy's top player at Idaho.

Utah State University hopes to name its interim athletic director by Friday and plans to announce on Monday a search-and-screening committee to find a permanent replacement for Chuck Bell, who is moving to San Jose State.

Paul Norton, of USU's public information office, says the search for a new athletic director will be "on a fast track. We're hoping to do it just as quickly as possible. We are going to take our time to make sure we get the right person, but it's such a critical position that we can't take a long, long time."