Utah State to host UC Santa Barbara in ESPNU BracketBuster game

By Doug Hoffman

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 31 2012 10:48 a.m. MST

LOGAN — Utah State men’s basketball will once again face a familiar foe during ESPNU’s BracketBuster weekend, as it will host former Big West Conference rival UC Santa Barbara on Saturday at 7 p.m. It will be the second time in the last four years that USU and UCSB have played one another during this nontelevised event.

“As hard as it is for us to get home-and-home series, BracketBuster has provided us with a home-and-home situation,” said veteran USU head coach Stew Morrill. “We’ve been a little spoiled, quite honestly, having the marquee games and televised games over the years, and we get to see how the other side lives now by just playing a normal game that isn’t part of the televised package.”

Utah State, 5-1 in BracketBusters, will be playing its first non-televised game in this event, its seventh year of participation.

Utah State has won each of its last two BracketBuster games, including a 75-65 road win at No. 24 Saint Mary’s last year. USU also defeated Wichita State (68-58) at home during the 2009-10 season; lost at Saint Mary’s (75-64) in 2008-09; defeated UC Santa Barbara (72-59) at home during the 2007-08 season; won at Oral Roberts (71-65) during the 2006-07 campaign; and defeated Northwestern State (66-63) at home during the 2005-06 season.

UC Santa Barbara is 11-7 on the season and in second place in the Big West with a 6-2 mark. The Gauchos, 4-4 on the road this year, return three starters and five seniors from last year’s team that went 18-14 and finished in a tie for fourth place in the Big West, with an 8-8 record. UCSB ended its season with a 79-51 loss to Florida in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, after defeating Pacific (79-67), Cal State Northridge (83-63) and Long Beach State (64-56) to win the Big West Tournament.

“It’s a renewal of an old rivalry that was a good rivalry,” Morrill added. “We have tons of respect for UC Santa Barbara, and Bob Williams is a really good coach and a really good guy. We may not have got the featured televised game, but we got a really good opponent and we have a ton of respect for them.”

Utah State and UC Santa Barbara will be meeting for the 63rd time, with the Aggies owning a 39-23 all-time advantage that includes a 22-6 record at home. The last time the two teams met was in November 2008 in Santa Barbara with USU winning, 61-59. The last time the two teams played in Logan was in February 2008 in an ESPNU BracketBuster game, as the Aggies won, 72-59. Overall, Utah State has won six straight games in the series, including each of the last six at home, and the last time UCSB defeated USU was in February 2003 in Santa Barbara, 62-50. The last time the Gauchos won in Logan was in January 1999, 66-65, in overtime.

All nine Western Athletic Conference teams will be involved in this year's event, with Nevada and New Mexico State being the only WAC schools to have a televised game.

Utah State is 12-10 on the season and 4-3 in Western Athletic Conference play, following a pair of home wins against Hawaii (77-72) and San Jose State (82-65) last weekend. USU is led by sophomore guard Preston Medlin, who is averaging 15.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, while shooting 49.1 percent from the field, 43.0 percent from three-point range and 77.0 percent at the free throw line.

As a team, Utah State is averaging 68.0 points and shooting 47.4 percent from the field, 37.6 percent from the 3-point range and 70.8 percent at the free throw line. Defensively, USU is allowing 64.8 points and its opponents are shooting 41.0 percent from the field, 31.2 percent from the 3-point range and 66.7 percent at the free throw line.

Utah State returns to action on Thursdaywhen it plays at Nevada (18-3, 7-0) at 8 p.m. The game will also not be televised.

WAC TV Matchups (Saturday, Feb. 18)

Drake at New Mexico State, 1 p.m. (ESPNU)

Nevada at Iona, 2 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2/ESPN3)

WAC Non-TV Matchups (Saturday, Feb. 18)

Fresno State at Cal State Northridge, 7 p.m.

Hawaii at Montana, TBA

Portland State at Idaho, TBA

Central Arkansas at Louisiana Tech, 4 p.m.

San Jose State at Sacramento State, TBA

UC Santa Barbara at Utah State, 7 p.m.

Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.

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