LOGAN — Shortly after defeating Louisiana Tech on Thursday night and setting the WAC record for consecutive conference wins with 20 in a row, there was no celebration, no postgame speech to the crowd about the record's importance. The only thing on the Utah State Aggies' minds was the next game, tonight, against New Mexico State.
"My first concern is here comes New Mexico State with all their size and talent," Aggie coach Stew Morrill said. "We have a day to prepare, we better get ready."
For the players that were on the team last year, there will be no extra motivation necessary. They all remember losing 69-63 in the WAC championship game to the other Aggies. In that game Tai Wesley spent much of the game sitting on the bench, trying to get his broken nose to stop bleeding long enough to get back onto the court.
Even players that were not on the team last season recognize the significance of the game.
"They are always a good team," Brockeith Pane said following the Aggies' Thursday victory. "They've had some injuries coach said, but we will watch some film tomorrow and get ready for them."
This year's New Mexico State team was decimated by injuries in the preseason and is now just rounding into form. It makes the Aggies a much more dangerous match-up than their record would indicate.
"What is always disturbing about New Mexico State is they have some things happen in the preseason and people around the country don't realize how good they are when they get to league," Morrill said.
"Invariably, when they get to league they have players that were not healthy or not eligible, or whatever the case may be and they get all their weapons back and they are very good. Sometimes that doesn't get shown in the preseason."
The red-clad Aggies will have All-WAC first-teamer Troy Gillenwater back from an ankle injury. Gillenwater is a do-everything forward averaging just under 19 points and seven rebounds a game.
New Mexico State will also have big man Hamidu Rahman back from a calf injury. Rahman is the defensive force in the middle for New Mexico State and is probably best known by Utah State fans for being the one to break Wesley's nose last March. Both players missed much of December with injuries and are now working their way into full-time minutes.
One notable exception will come in the form of Wendell McKinnes, who is redshirting this season after breaking his foot in a preseason practice.
New Mexico State stands at an even 10-10 on the season with a 4-2 conference record following a 90-71 loss at Nevada on Thursday night. Even with a mediocre record to start the season it is not a stretch to look at the talent level of the southern Aggies and believe that they will be one of the biggest challengers to Utah State's fourth consecutive conference crown.
"This has been an amazing group to be playing for a fourth-straight WAC title," Morrill said. "I keep telling them to enjoy it. I think they are listening but there is a degree of pressure any time you are trying to repeat, let alone three-peat or four-peat. The best you can do is play hard, and try and do your game prep, and rely on your experience."
Aggies on the air
Utah State (17-2, 6-0) vs. New Mexico State (10-10, 4-2)
Today (Saturday), 9 p.m.
TV: ESPNU Radio: 610 AM, 95.9 FM, 1320