LOGAN — After knocking off one unbeaten Big West Conference leader last Saturday in Santa Barbara, Calif., Utah State and its monster home winning streak are rewarded Thursday with maybe a better opponent and a late start for ESPN2 television.
Tied for second place in the Big West at 11-2, 3-1, the Aggies take on league leader UC Irvine, the defending league regular-season champion that has the BWC's defending player of the year and current scoring leader in Jerry Green.
The game starts at 9 p.m. in the Smith Spectrum.
In 2001, the Anteaters stopped the Aggies' 26-game league-win streak but have lost five of the last six to the Aggies and the last four in the Spectrum. Their record currently is 10-4, 3-0.
Saturday, the other shoe drops when Long Beach State invades the Spectrum at 7 p.m. Disappointing at 5-9, 1-2, the 49ers were considered in the preseason to be title contenders.
The weekend should give USU coach Stew Morrill a good look at just what kind of club he has. Is it a middle-of-the-pack team as he's been saying, or a possible champion, as preseason polls and recent standings suggest?
"They will be a real challenge for us, and yet we are really excited to be where we are at," Morrill said.
"They have lots of weapons," he said of Irvine, which has a five-game win streak to pit against USU's 31-game home-win streak that is the country's third best and which should be aided by a full house and the crazies that always show up for a national telecast.
Green averages 22.6 points and is UCI's No. 2 career scorer with 1,658 points. Utah State's Tony Brown is 13th in Aggie history with 1,316 points and fourth in league scoring at 16.5. Aggie Desmond Penigar is second to Green at 18.2 a game.
The 'Eaters also have 7-foot sophomore Adam Parada, who hurt USU last season and who is improving daily, scoring 11.6 and rebounding 6.5 a game, plus Colgate transfer Jordan Harris, scoring 12.3, rebounding 6.8. Add 6-10 forward Stanislav Zuzak of the Czech Republic, averaging 9.5 points, 5.1 rebounds.
UCI's biggest problem is that it's worst in the league at turnover margin, -3.71, almost double USU's sad mark of -2.0.
The Aggies fare better in most league statistical categories such as scoring (72.4 to Irvine's 70.9) and scoring defense (allowing 60 points to UCI's 66.4). USU leads the league in scoring margin (+12.4) and rebound margin (+9.3) and related categories.
"We need to go out and do what we do," said Morrill. "If we stick to what has made us good the last couple of years, playing good, solid, hard defense and rebounding the ball, we generally have a chance to be in the game."
Irvine (10-4) at USU (11-2)
Thursday, Smith Spectrum, 9 p.m.
Radio: AM 610