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USU struggles against top 25

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LOGAN — Utah State basketball coach Stew Morrill has a sparkling record in his eight years at Utah State in winning close to 76 percent, but against ranked teams the Aggies are 2-8 under his watch. Four of those games were played in the NCAA tournament.

With the Aggies' most recent loss to No. 25 Nevada, 75-57, last Saturday night, the Aggies have lost two straight games to teams in the top 25. Their last win over a ranked team came in last year's Big West Conference tournament championship game when they beat Pacific, 65-52, to earn an NCAA tournament bid against No. 9 Arizona. The Wildcats won that game 66-53 in Boise.

In the last 15 years, the Aggies are 5-20 against the nation's elite with four coming over rival Utah and one over Pacific, while all-time, Utah State is 9-50.

Utah State has been beaten by 18 points in the last 10 games with ranked opponents, while four more have been decided by three points or less.

In the 10 games the Aggies are being outscored 66.5 to 57.4, but if you take away their three worst games when they allowed 75 points or more, they are being outscored by less than two points.

In the loss to Nevada, the Aggies, who entered the game second in the nation in field goal percentage and first in three-point field goal percentage, shot a season-low 32.4 percent and 27.3 percent from the three-point line. Jaycee Carroll, who was sixth in the nation in three-point field goal percentage, hit just 3 of 10 from behind the arc, and Nate Harris, who ranked fifth in the nation in field goal percentage, hit just 3 of 12 shots.

"It didn't look like the team that we've had that has won 19 games," said Morrill after suffering his worse home loss of his career at Utah State. "I didn't recognize our team out there."

With the loss, the Aggies (19-7, 9-5) fell into a three-way tie for third instead of a tie for first (with the tie breaker of Nevada) with two games remaining before the Western Athletic Conference tournament in Reno beginning March 9.

"When a team comes into your house you want to be the aggressor, and (Saturday) we weren't," Utah State forward Durrall Peterson said. "Instead of us going for it, they would go for it. If there was a loose ball, they got it. If it was a three, they would hit it. They just outplayed us."

With the win, the Wolf Pack wrapped up at least a share of the league crown.

"Our kids have had unbelievable daily focus, and I told them (Friday night) that if we win the game, they win a share of the championship," Nevada coach Mark Fox said following Saturday's game. "A few of them didn't know because they have been so focused on the daily effort."

It was the second time in three weeks the Aggies could have played themselves into a first-place tie. They lost to New Mexico State in Las Cruces and at the time it would have created a tie with Nevada and La. Tech.

HALF-CENTURY MARK: The Wolf Pack shot 54.7 percent from the field and when an Aggies opponent shoots 50 percent or better this season Utah State is 0-4.

ALL FOR NAUGHT: The Aggies outrebounded Nevada 39-35 and has a season-high 18 offensive rebounds. It was the fourth straight game the Aggies have tallied more rebounds than their opponent.

HARRIS MILESTONE: Last Saturday, Harris tied Spencer Nelson in games played with 120. Harris, a senior from Smithfield, needs seven games to catch leader Tony Brown. In order to surpass Brown, the Aggies would have to win at least two games in a postseason tournament.

20-WIN PLATEAU: The Aggies need just one more to reach 20 wins for the seventh straight season. Under Morrill, the Aggies are 6-4 when trying to win game No. 20.

E-mail: jhinton@desnews.com