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Utah State to host pair of key Big West games

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LOGAN — Don't blink. You could miss Utah State's brief but important two-game homestand Thursday and Saturday nights, both at 7.

The Aggies host UC Santa Barbara, 13-6, 6-3, Thursday evening in the Smith Spectrum and 11-6, 5-4 Cal Poly on Saturday night to open the second half of the Big West Conference season.

USU, 14-4 and 6-3, is tied with the Gauchos for third place in the league and is staring at a road trip to Long Beach State and conference co-leader Irvine next week, so it's got to make hay despite the cold temperatures this week in Cache Valley.

UCSB and USU have both been erratic lately, though both are among league leaders in most team statistics. USU is 4-3 since 2002 began, with five of those games on the road. UCSB has alternated wins and losses over its past eight games and is coming off an 82-50 win at Long Beach State last Saturday.

"I like 6-3 a lot better than I would have liked 5-4," said USU coach Stew Morrill about a second-half comeback win at last-place Idaho Saturday.

"I think we've pretty much finished right where people are picking us," said Aggie senior Tony Brown, who will reach 1,400 career points with his next three. His next 10 points will give him 11th place on the USU career list.

USU was picked to finish second and third by the BWC coaches and media in the preseason poll. "So, we've met standards," he said, adding that's not enough. "Hopefully, everybody else on the team feels this way — we could be higher than what we are now.

"I'm sure everybody would like to finish 9-0. That might not happen. It might. But we've got to start (this week)."

UCSB has lost four straight to the Ags, including 60-56 at Santa Barbara Jan. 5. The Gauchos are 4-1 in Big West road games. Morrill says that doesn't concern him any more than he's already concerned about meeting a big-time defensive team with offensive talent like Mark Hull, the league's No. 7 scorer averaging 15.5 points; Branduinn Fullove, No. 8 at 14.1; and No. 14 Adama Ndiaye (11.8), who's also the No. 3 rebounder (8.3).

The Aggies are No. 1 and UCSB No. 2 in both Big West scoring defense (59.2 points against to 59.8), scoring margin (10.4-7.5), 3-point field goal defense (.298-.303), rebound margin (8.5-5.3). The order is reversed with the Gauchos leading in defensive rebounds (26.67-25.78) and field-goal percentage defense (.370-.394).

"I knew what a quality win that was for us down there," Morrill said. "We had our backs against the wall, and we responded. We were very determined, and we will need the same determination to have a chance to beat them here."

E-mail: lham@desnews.com