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Fullerton poses no problem for pumped-up USU

Thursday's 22-point win over contending Nevada on ESPN was just the highest of highs, says Utah State basketball coach Larry Eustachy.

Even Eustachy, he of the tunnel vision that rarely lets him enjoy prosperity on the court, had problems coming down in time for Saturday's game with 8-12, 3-7 Cal Fullerton. So, how would his team do it?Not real well for a few minutes. And pretty well for the final 34 minutes, starting with a 21-4 run after Fullerton went ahead 7-5.

Utah State, now 18-5 and 9-1 atop the Big West Conference, led by as many as 29 points and eventually stung Fullerton 69-44 Saturday night in the Smith Spectrum for its 23rd straight home win, a school record and still the seventh-best current home-winning streak in the NCAA.

The win earned a big thumbs-up from one of America's toughest graders. "It was hard for me to forget about Thursday," Eustachy said, "so, under the circumstances, we got an A-plus tonight."

No one, including Eustachy, actually was thinking about the 23 straight wins until reporters brought up the subject. "Now that it's done, I'm really proud of it," he said, "because of where the program was when (outgoing athletic director) Chuck Bell turned it around."

Eustachy's thoughts turned to players from his earlier USU teams, like Roddie Anderson, the small forward who became a tremendous point guard out of necessity, and hard workers like Eric Franson, now playing professionally in Europe. And his thoughts turned to this undersized team with the big heart that has won 14 of its last 16 league games and is 13-0 at home this season.

"This is something that you can't take away from them," Eustachy said of No. 23.

"It's not really hit any of us yet," said senior guard Justin Jones (14 points on 5-for-8 shooting). "You hear it on ESPN and read it in the paper, and it makes you feel good, but we don't worry about that."

"When we play at home, that's when we play our best," said senior forward Kevin Rice (13 points, 5-for-8, five rebounds). "We're familiar with the court, and our fans pick us up, and it's just a great place to play." Saturday, "We were close to our best at times. From time to time, we played plays right, and they couldn't get any baskets. And then when we didn't play it right, we were almost at our worst," Rice said.

Some of it was the Titans' insistence on shooting shots they couldn't make, but Eustachy said USU had a lot to do with holding them to 29 percent shooting for the game, 24 percent in a 15- point first half that was the lowest opponent total since Division II Cal Poly (45-15 in 1995).

It's the first time since 1995, also, that the Ags have had back-to-back 20-point-plus wins.

And the weekend was easily the best two-game stretch for 6-foot-6 junior-college transfer Aggie center Donnie Johnson, who followed Thursday's 21-point/12-rebound outing with 18 points and six rebounds Saturday. He made nine of 11 shots from the field.

"He's going much harder in practice," said Rice, "and he's listening better, and it's showing up in the games. He's with everyone now. His play has picked everyone up. I love it," said Rice.

USU only outrebounded the Titans 37-33, and Eustachy considers rebounds a big measure of the Aggie game, but Saturday defense and ball-handling (seven turnovers, lowest against an NCAA opponent this season) did the job nicely.

The Ags embark on a four-game road swing starting Thursday against teams that are 10-0, 10-1, 9-2 and 6-6 at home. The Ags have just two more home games.