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Dean Hare, Associated Press
Utah State's Stew Morrill signals in a play during Saturday's win at Idaho. It was Morrill's 500th victory as a head coach.

MOSCOW, Idaho — Leading up to the game Utah State basketball coach Stew Morrill wanted nothing to do with discussing his career coaching legacy.

After beating Idaho 60-48 Saturday night in the Kibbie Dome, however, Morrill reluctantly spoke on the milestone achievement of becoming only the 19th active coach with 500 Division I coaching victories.

"I don't know what you say," Morrill said after a lengthy pause while fumbling for words. "I think in coaching you worry about the next one and not try to get No. 500."

And in a profession where coaches are hired to be fired eventually, Morrill counts himself lucky to still be doing what he loves.

"I've been really fortunate," he said. "Coaching is a temp spot until they discard you. I've been a temp employee for a long time."

Long enough to join the likes of Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim.

Idaho basketball coach Don Verlin was on the sideline for approximately 300 of Morrill's coaching victories, having spent 15 years as an assistant coach.

He would have preferred to miss No. 500 — especially because this time it came at his expense.

"It's unbelievable," Verlin said. "They run a god, solid consistent program with good kids who play the right way … the man knows what he's doing."

And that is winning — a lot.

With the Aggies shutting Idaho down in the second half — the Vandals made only four shots and scored just 18 points after halftime — Utah State improved to 15-6 overall and is now 5-2 in Western Athletic Conference play.

"It's special," USU forward and team leader Tai Wesley said. "It's very special and it's a great feat for any coach."

If there was one downside to the win, it was that it occurred away from the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum where Morrill has enjoyed so much success over the past decade.

"It would have been nice to be at home," Wesley said, "but we'll take it."

Utah State threatened to blow the game open in the first half and led by as many as 10 points with 9:37 left before the break. Verlin, a longtime Morrill assistant who employs a nearly identical scheme, made some adjustments and the Vandals started hitting shots and making stops.

Still, USU held a 35-30 lead at the half thanks to a 50-percent shooting performance and a 18-11 rebounding edge. Jared Quayle, the reigning WAC player of the week, paced the Aggies with 10 points and four rebounds at the half and helped limit Idaho's Mac Hopson, a WAC player of the year candidate averaging more than 20 points per game, to just one point on 0-of-3 shooting.

Whatever worked for the Vandals (8-9, 1-5) for those few minutes quickly stopped working in the second half, though.

Quayle finished with a game-high 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Wesley added 11 points and Brady Jardine had another solid night off the bench with 10.

"I didn't think we played very well for the last three minutes," Morrill said. "But we played well enough the first 37 to make up for it."

Utah State enjoyed a 50-percent shooting night (making 25 of 50 shots) and outrebounded the Vandals 35-23. And Hopson struggled with just seven total points and took himself out of the game with several minutes to play, complaining of cramps.

The Aggies, who have played five of their first seven WAC games on the road, now return home where they'll have a full week to prepare for San Jose State and a stretch of seven home games out of the remaining 10 games on the schedule.

That could set up Utah State, currently just one game out of first place in the WAC, well for the stretch run.

But Saturday night was for Morrill, already the winningest coach in Utah State history, and his legacy.

"It's the same thing, nothing changes, just the personnel," Verlin said, reminded he was witness to many of those wins. "Make no mistake about it, there's one man running that program."

Still, Morrill said that while he will, at some point, take time to reflect on the milestone, he's just happy to win one game at a time.

"That 15 is a lot more important than 500," Morrill said.

e-mail: jeborn@desnews.com