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4 Aggies score in double figures

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LOGAN — Desmond Penigar said it was the best practice the Aggies have ever had. Instead of the usual cries of defense, defense, defense, Utah State coach Stew Morrill dedicated one of this week's sessions exclusively to offense.

And it paid off.

USU shot 55 percent from the field and had a season-high four players score in double-figures as the Aggies toppled Cal Poly 81-67 Thursday at the Spectrum.

"It got everybody rejuvenated," said Penigar, who led all scorers with 20 points. All but six came in the second half when the Aggies broke open a fairly close game and built three 19-point leads.

"We just played more aggressive in the second half. Coach told us the key word for the second half was 'aggressiveness,' " Penigar continued. "We came out and played more aggressively. We took them out of their game plan. and started knocking down our shots."

In less than 6 1/2 minutes, USU had turned a 37-32 halftime lead into a 57-38 advantage.

"We defended better. We pushed the ball on the break and obviously we scored the ball better," Morrill said. "It was nice to see us get out and score a lot of points. This is good for a lot of guys confidence."

The output was USU's highest against a Division I opponent this season. Spencer Nelson finished with 16 points, while Ronnie Ross and Toraino Johnson added 12 and 10, respectively, to join Penigar in double figures.

Although the Aggies were successful offensively, Cal Poly coach Kevin Bromley was more impressed with their defense.

"Stew does a great job of positioning the weak side. They sometimes have two or three guys on the weak side," Bromley said. "They know when the shots are going to be taken. It's an all-out war in there. It's a physical battle on the weak-side glass."

The Aggies won the rebounding battle 38-20 and pulled down 14 offensive boards.

"I thought Cal Poly got real tired in the second half when we were really pushing the ball and that was a big part of the game," Morrill said. "We changed some things up this week that I think helped us. We were able to get out and be more comfortable and that was a positive."

USU entered the game on the heels of its worst shooting effort of the season — 32 percent in a loss at Pacific last weekend.

"This was real nice. It gives us a lot of confidence for Saturday's game," Penigar said. "A lot of guys have confidence, so that's a good thing right now."

The Aggies (11-3, 2-1) host UC Santa Barbara Saturday night at 8:05 in a nationally televised tilt on ESPN2. The Gauchos, who improved to 2-1 in league play and 5-8 overall with a victory at Idaho Thursday, are considered favorites to win the Big West Conference. They finished first in preseason polls by league coaches and media. USU was second in both.

GAME NOTES: Provo High and UVSC alum Eric Jackson started at guard for Cal Poly. The junior finished with two points in 21 minutes . . . The Aggies are now 9-1 all-time against the Mustangs . . . USU has won 50 of its past 52 league games at home . . . Morrill earned his 105th win (against 36 losses) as coach of the Aggies. He's one shy of equaling Dutch Belnap for fifth on USU's career victory list . . . Former USU coach Kohn Smith visited the Aggies after the game . . . Attendance was 8,497.

E-MAIL: dirk@desnews.com