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USU to open season in Alaska

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LOGAN — The defending Big West Conference-champion Utah State Aggies, coming off maybe the best season in school history with a 28-win record, will start their 2000-2001 season at the very top.

The regular season opens at the Top of the World Classic Nov. 16-18 at Fairbanks, Alaska.

Aggie coach Stew Morrill released his 31-game schedule for the coming basketball season, and it includes two exhibition games, 13 non-conference games, 16 Big West games in a balanced home-and-home schedule and 17 home games. That includes the Gossner Classic, which will include Mountain West Conference opponent Air Force for the first time.

"Our schedule certainly presents challenges and opportunities that a veteran team will be excited about," said Morrill. "As a coach, you are always concerned about your team's ability to meet these challenges."

The Big West this season loses Nevada to the Western Athletic Conference and New Mexico State and North Texas to the Sun Belt, so there are now nine teams in the league forming one division. In past years, the Aggies played Western Conference teams just once in a season, Eastern Conference teams twice. Now they'll play everyone twice, and the Big West Tournament moves from Nevada to Anaheim, Calif.

"I see the Big West Conference as being a much improved league from a year ago," said Morrill. "Being the defending champions, we will have a big target on our chests. We will have to work very hard to meet expectations for the season."

The Aggies will get a chance to answer some of those challenges early in the season in the Top of the World Tournament. Other teams in that field are Auburn, Colorado, South Florida, Santa Clara, Davidson, Austin Peay, and Alaska-Fairbanks.

USU will have nonconference games with Weber State and Utah at home in the Smith Spectrum and Brigham Young University on the road. The Aggies will also host Cornell, Albany and Air Force in the seventh Gossner Foods Classic Dec. 29-30.

The 2001 Big West Tournament will be held in Anaheim, Calif., March 8-10.