The biggest concern for Utah basketball coach Jim Boylen in tonight's game with Utah State at the Huntsman Center is the experienced team his young squad will be facing.
The five Aggie starters average 22.4 years of age, and their top reserve turns 24 next month. According to the USU press release, Utah State's four returning starters have a combined 239 games played while at Utah State, including 186 starts, while its four other returnees have a total of 136 games played at USU.
The Aggies are "older than the Jazz" joked Idaho coach Don Verlin, a former Aggie assistant who defeated the Utes in their opening game Friday night at the Huntsman Center. And he isn't far off considering that the Jazz have seven players between the ages of 20 and 24.
Then there's Utah, whose oldest starter, Luka Drca, turned 22 just three months ago. He's joined in the starting lineup by 21-year-olds Kim Tillie and David Foster, 20-year-old Carlon Brown and 19-year-old freshman Marshall Henderson. Utah's top reserve, Jason Washburn, is also 19.
"We're not going to match them with maturity or experience. That's really the challenge for us right now," said Boylen. "They have veteran, experienced guys who have been around, been on missions and are very mature."
As old and experienced as the Aggies are, they have just one senior on their team in Jared Quayle, who is 24. He is a returned missionary as are fellow starters Tai Wesley, Nate Bendall and Tyler Newbold. The fifth starter, JC transfer Brian Green, is 21 and also a returned missionary.
So does age really make a difference among collegiate players?
Boylen thinks so.
"I think a 24-year-old guy is a little wiser, smarter and tougher than a 21-year-old guy," he said. "The maturity is something we have to combat with communication and trust."
It's a similar problem the Utes faced in their opener against an Idaho team that had six seniors and a pair of junior-college players in their main rotation. The Utes didn't handle it well and lost 94-87.
But age and experience aside, Boylen believes his team just has to play better against an Aggie squad that has five in-state players in the starting lineup.
"They're a very disciplined team with very tough kids," Boylen said. "I think Quayle is one of the most underrated guys we've played against. I really like the way he plays with intelligence and athleticism. They have a terrific system and it goes without saying that they're very well-coached. It's a big challenge for us."
The Aggies are coming off a 66-60 victory over Weber State in Ogden last Friday night. The Aggies had balanced scoring, led by Newbold, the guard from Payson, who scored 15 points, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range.
The Aggies have a 7-4 record against Utah under coach Stew Morrill. They've won every game in Logan since 1996, but haven't won in Salt Lake since 2001.
Boylen has done well in his two tries against the Aggies, winning 72-48 in 2007 and losing on a last-second shot by Wesley last year in Logan in a game that starting point guard Drca was suspended for.
After tonight's game, Utah plays host to Southern University out of Louisiana on Saturday at 7 p.m., while USU plays its third straight road game, at Northeastern (Boston) on Saturday at 10 a.m. MST.
GAME NOTES: Pooh Williams, who started 31 games for USU last year, is out for a few weeks after having foot surgery. ... Utah leads the all-time series with USU 129-92, including a 79-33 record in Salt Lake. ... USU assistant Chris Jones spent seven years as an assistant and played two years at Utah. ... Morgan Grim played two years at Utah before transferring to USU after last season. He is sitting out as a redshirt this season.
Aggies vs. Utes
Utah State (1-0) at Utah (0-1)
Today, 6 p.m.
TV: The mtn.
Radio: 700 AM