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Unfamiliar spot for Ags: 3rd place

LOGAN — It's an unfamiliar position for Utah State.

For the first time in four seasons, the Aggies aren't in first or second place in the Big West Conference. They enter tonight's home game with Idaho (7:05 p.m., Aggie Radio Network) trailing both Irvine (1 1/2 games) and Santa Barbara (1 game).

Even more disturbing for USU coach Stew Morrill is how his team is playing. The Ags are coming off an embarrassing 72-65 loss at UC Riverside.

"I'm not happy, once I saw the tape, with our performance with Riverside. Sure, they shot the ball well and they did some good things, but boy, we were not good in the second half. We were lacking concentration and lacking effort," said Morrill, who is hopeful improvement can be made before the upcoming conference tournament. "My message to the team isn't going to be gloom and doom. Rather my message will be we're 19-7, a game out of first place and we have three straight games at home — now let's get better.

"Let's not feel sorry. Let's see why we got beat," he continued. "That will be the title of our horror film movie today, 'Why we got beat.' It will be very specific."

The script, he added, will include shortcomings such as defense, bad shots, poor judgment and concentration issues.

"Should I keep going?" Morrill said.

No need. The Aggies are well aware of what they need to improve upon in order to succeed down the stretch and possibly catch the Anteaters and/or Gauchos in the standings.

"To win three in a row, we've got to play better defensively, we've got to have guys believe that they can make outside shots. We've got to make big shots and not make as many errors," Morrill explained. "A lot of good things can still happen for this team."

A victory over Idaho would give USU a school-record fourth consecutive 20-win season. It's a milestone that could garner the Ags an NIT berth should they fail to win the Big West tourney and go to the NCAAs. Looking that far ahead, though, is a luxury they probably can't afford. USU is 3-3 over its past six games.

GAME NOTES: The Aggies are trying to avoid back-to-back losses for just the second time this season and fifth over four seasons . . . USU has a seven-game winning streak against teams from the state of Idaho . . . Former Ag assistant Leonard Perry is 20-32 in two seasons as head coach of the Vandals . . . The Aggies defeated Idaho 60-56 on Feb. 23 in Moscow. They have won nine straight against the Vandals and lead the all-time series 19-10.

THE STRETCH RUN . . . Remaining games for top contenders in the Big West Conference: The league tournament is March 13-15 in Anaheim, Calif. Home games in all CAPS.

UC IRVINE (18-7, 12-4): at UC Santa Barbara (March 1); LONG BEACH STATE (March 8).

UC SANTA BARBARA (14-12, 11-4): UC IRVINE (March 1); at CS Fullerton (March 6); at UC Riverside (March 8).

UTAH STATE (19-7, 10-5): IDAHO (March 1); CS NORTHRIDGE (March 6); PACIFIC (March 8).

USU Aggies (19-7, 10-5)

Probable starters

Name Ht. Yr. PPG

F D. Penigar 6-7 Sr. 15.3

F Toraino Johnson 6-4 Sr. 8.0

C Spencer Nelson 6-8 So. 10.5

G Ronnie Ross 6-1 Sr. 5.8

G Mark Brown 5-10 Jr. 8.9

Idaho Vandals (11-13, 7-8)

Probable starters

Name Ht. Yr. PPG

F Tyrone Hayes 6-6 Jr. 12.9

F Rashaad Powell 6-3 Jr. 5.3

F Jon Tinnon 6-8 Jr. 8.2

G Justin Logan 6-0 Sr. 5.9

G D. Williams 6-2 Jr. 10.4

Saturday, 7:05 p.m.

Smith Spectrum (10,270), Logan

TV: None

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