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Utah State basketball: Aggies are targets as WAC's top team

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Alone and in first place, Utah State is back in familiar territory.

The Aggies are riding a nine-game winning streak and are steadily climbing the national RPI scale. And now they're entering the bracketology-type discussion as a possible at-large invitee to next month's NCAA Tournament, if USU doesn't end up winning the Western Athletic Conference tourney.

All that, of course, leaves Utah State as the team everyone in the WAC wants to beat.

"I'm sure we have a target on our back," senior point guard Jared Quayle said as the 19-6 Aggies — the back-to-back WAC regular-season champions and on their way to a third conference title — said as Utah State prepared to meet a well-rested San Jose State team tonight.

Tipoff is set for 8 p.m., and the Spartans could be the last significant hurdle remaining on Utah State's schedule. SJSU may be just 11-12 overall and 5-6 in the WAC, but the Spartans have won 9 of 10 games at home and have not lost in the Events Center since St. Mary's — a team that also beat USU in Logan — knocked them off back in November.

"We know how good they are," USU coach Stew Morrill said. "Our biggest problem is chasing all their guards around."

The Spartans, a little thin at the post, often throw a speedy four-guard lineup at opponents, hoping to wear down foes and run the score up.

While that will create matchup problems when a player such as Tai Wesley or Brady Jardine is asked to guard a 6-foot-3 slasher, the backside of that equation turns to Utah State's favor when the rugged post players the Aggies use set up shop on the blocks and dominate the paint.

That was the case when the two teams met on Jan. 30 in Logan — a 77-58 Aggie victory.

But Morrill expects a slightly different experience tonight.

The Aggies will be a little tired, having played a tough game at Boise State on Thursday night. San Jose State, on the other hand, has not had a game in a week and will be eager to play spoiler to Utah State's conference title aspirations while also improving its own seeding at the WAC tourney.

"Glad we're going there with a win and a chance to sweep the trip," Morrill said. "But they are a very talented team."

The Spartans feature one of the WAC's most dangerous scorers in Adrian Oliver. Averaging 22.3 points and 5.8 rebounds, Oliver's scoring ability is enough to keep SJSU alive in most games.

But the lack of depth on the blocks has become a serious problem for San Jose. Chris Oakes averages 11.3 points and 9.6 rebounds, while C.J. Webster adds 8.8 points and 5.1 rebounds but is limited in his playing time because of an eye injury and his conditioning.

But now that Utah State is the sole resident of first place in the WAC standings, the Aggies are again under the gun to hold off challengers.

"I'm sure we do have a target (on our backs)," Wesley said. "But I thought last year there was more pressure."

Should the Aggies win tonight, they'll have 20 wins for the 12th consecutive season and finish the regular season with four of five games at home and only a trip to last-place Hawaii left on the road.

Aggies on the air

Utah State (19-6, 9-2 WAC) at

San Jose State (11-12, 5-6)

The Events Center, San Jose

Tonight, 8 p.m.

TV: none Radio: 610 AM, 1230 AM, 95.9 FM

e-mail: jeborn@desnews.com