Jim Urquhart, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Utah State guard Preston Medlin (13) makes a dunk against Hawaii during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012, in Logan, Utah. Utah State won 77-72. (AP Photo/Jim Urquhart)
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — In its first road test of the young season, the Utah State basketball team passed with flying colors. The Aggies (3-0) prevailed against UC Santa Barbara 71-64 in the Thunderdome. USU was led by Preston Medlin with 18 points and Spencer Butterfield with 16 points and seven rebounds.
“I think it's big time. It’s our only out-of-state road trip of the preseason. Hopefully it gives us a good taste for what the Mountain West will be like,” forward Ben Clifford told KVNU 610 AM. Clifford led the way off the bench with 10 points and three rebounds.
Earlier this week the Gauchos (2-1) hammered UNLV, a Mountain West Conference favorite, 86-65, in Las Vegas. UCSB star forward Alan Williams had 21 points and nine rebounds in that game, but was not able to suit up against the Aggies due to back spasms.
Going into halftime Utah State looked to be in total control, owning a 39-29 advantage, but the Gauchos came out in the second half on fire and had an 11-0 run to take the lead. After a few minutes of back-and-forth play the Aggies pulled ahead for good with an 8-0 run, highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers by Butterfield, to take the lead back to double digits, 56-46.
UCSB made a last-ditch comeback effort in the final moments, but would get no closer than three as the Aggies sealed the game at the free-throw line. After some average performances at the charity stripe in its first two games of the season, USU hit 17 of 19 free-throw attempts.
Utah State survived despite its worst shooting night of the season. The Aggies came into the game shooting 52.8 percent, but finished well below that mark against UCSB at 42 percent. The team was able to overcome the poor shooting performance by knocking shots down from deep. Butterfield hit 4 of his 6 shots from deep, while Medlin knocked down 4 of 8. Exploiting holes in the Gaucho zone the Aggies finished 10 of 21 from 3-point range.
Saturday's game was the first of two nonconference matchups for USU and UCSB this season. The Gauchos will face the Aggies in Logan on Dec. 20 as part of the Basketball Travelers Classic sponsored by Gossner Foods. Utah State will get a week of practice before its next game on Saturday, Nov. 23 against Mississippi State.