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Aggies expect tough matchup against Tigers

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Utah State could be in for a taste of its own medicine tonight at Pacific. After manhandling high-scoring Cal State Northridge 59-44 on Thursday, the Aggies travel north to the Spanos Center in Stockton, Calif., where they're expecting a rough, tough battle with the red-hot Tigers (8:05 p.m., Aggie Radio Network).

"That one's going to be a war. We better be ready physically for that kind of game," said USU coach Stew Morrill. "We've got to match their physical play if we want to have a chance."

It'll be a totally different game, he added, than the victory over the Matadors. Dictating tempo will take a backseat to execution — on both sides of the ball.

Pacific (6-4), which successfully opened Big West Conference play by holding Idaho to just 50 points, mirrors Utah State (10-2) in a lot of ways. Both teams have won five straight games and have done so with defense and rebounding.

The Aggies haven't allowed 60 points in any game during their streak, while Pacific hasn't given up more than 61. The Tigers applied the clamps well in impressive non-conference victories over Western Kentucky (70-57) and St. Joseph's (62-50). Freshman forward Christian Maraker, a native of Sweden, led the way by averaging a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds in the wins. He is the reigning Big West player of the week.

Desmond Penigar, who was in foul trouble throughout most of the Northridge game, will draw the main defensive assignment. Improved play on his part could be crucial against Pacific.

Morrill, however, isn't overly concerned. Though he'd like to get more out of Penigar, the coach was impressed that his star was "all about winning" on Thursday — doing the little things to help his teammates succeed.

Cardell Butler topped the Aggies with a career-high 17 points, while Mark Brown had six assists. Spencer Nelson was another bright spot with seven rebounds and five assists.

The reserve unit was led by Ronnie Ross. The senior tallied 14 points and hit 3-of-5 shots from 3-point range. The timely connections allowed USU to keep and increase a lead it built in the first half.

"I just let the game come to me," said Ross. "When the shots came I took them."

AG NOTES: USU leads the all-time series with Pacific 41-18. The Aggies have won seven of the past eight meetings — including a 69-65 in last year's Big West tournament semifinals . . . USU returns home next week to face Cal Poly Thursday and UC Santa Barbara in an ESPN game Saturday night . . . Penigar averaged 18.7 points against the Tigers last season.

Aggies vs. Tigers

Utah State (10-2, 1-0) at Pacific (6-4, 1-0)

Today, 8:05 p.m. (Mountain)

TV: None

Radio: 610 AM (Logan), 98.3 FM (SLC)

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com