Now that Utah State has learned how to win at home, which the Aggies did twice last week to open the Big West Conference 2-0, it's time to see what it's made of on the road.
Originally, tonight's 8:35 MST game at Cal State-Fullerton didn't look real tough. The Titans were picked to finish last in the league.That was before their eight-game win streak. They lost their first two, won the next eight, the second-longest win streak in school history, and then lost 98-67 Friday at No. 1 UNLV. The Titans are unbeaten at home, 1-1 in league play with a win at Fresno.
And it doesn't get any easier for the 5-6 Aggies this week as they go to UNLV Wednesday.
"Fullerton's the key game," says Aggie senior Jeff Parris. "We need to be 3-0 to go into Vegas; there are not many teams going to beat them."
"That's a very good game for us to go play at Fullerton right now," agrees Coach Kohn Smith. "It's to our advantage playing them before we go play Vegas." His thinking is that the Aggies will be well rested for Fullerton, though he'd rather have had another day to prepare, and they'll catch Vegas while they're on the way home.
Utah State is a different team now than it was at the beginning of the season, says guard Jay Goodman, who's had 21 and 31 points in his last two games. "We're playing a lot better, but we still go in spurts," he added. However, he said, when the Aggies feel a lull coming on, they've found that if they pass the ball around 10 times, as told to do by the coaches, they get open shots and momemtum back.
"Our team's getting better all the time," says Smith. "They're making better decisions at critical times, and a couple of good wins helps a team."
Two-time Big West player of the week Joe Small, a 6-foot-2 junior guard averaging 22.0 points - double that of any teammate - is Smith's biggest worry. He was still debating whom to play against Small, and that could determine whether he goes with the three-guard lineup he's used lately or just two.
He could have Kendall Youngblood guard him. Youngblood, 6-4, often draws the tough defensive assignments. But Youngblood's been playing the 3-spot, going against forwards while being a guard in the offense, along with Goodman (5-11) and Allen Gordon (6-0). He could put Youngblood at the 2-guard and start another forward.
"I don't know how to guard Small," Smith said. "It's a challenge.
Small's accurate from free throws to three-pointers, although UNLV had him shooting 3-for-16 and held Fullerton to .259 field-goal accuracy. "Vegas is so good they cause everybody to shoot poorly," scoffs Smith, who doubts the end of CSF's win streak Friday will make a difference to the Titans because of whom they lost to.