Utah State is coming off what may have been its poorest performance yet. And now things really get tough as 7-9, 4-3 USU plays at 14-2, 6-1 New Mexico State in a Big West game tonight at 7:30 MST. Coach Neil McCarthy's NMS Aggies haven't lost in their own Pan Am Center in 11 tries.

"We're going to have to learn from our mistakes," says USU Aggie guard Jay Goodman. "That had to be the worst basketball we've played," he said of Thursday's 89-78 failure at Long Beach."They're pretty similar," says USU Coach Kohn Smith, comparing Long Beach and New Mexico State. The styles are close, except New Mexico will zone on defense. And NMS is bigger, quicker and more explosive than the 49ers, winning games by an average of 17 points and averaging about 88 points on offense.

New Mexico State's goal each game is 20 steals and 20 offensive rebounds. Three NMS Aggies are in the Big West's top 10 in steals, and Reggie Jordan ranks fourth in rebounds while the team is third in the league in rebounding margin.

If Thursday's game can be used as a learning experience, perhaps USU can cope offensively with a pressing defense. "Their press," Goodman warns, "is going to be better than Long Beach's."

The Aggies became a free-for-all offense when faced by Long Beach's press, throwing off-balance shots and milling around rather than cutting and screening.

"We had zero leadership," observed Goodman.

"We've got to take our time and move the ball around, and if we don't have an easy layup or short jumper, we've got to pull it back out," said Goodman.

"Our defense starts with our offense and how well we handle the ball," says Smith, who called Thursday's offense "careless".

"The errors were unforced - we made the errors," Smith said.

He is most worried about making more of the two- and three-error lapses like USU did Thursday which allowed Long Beach to spurt ahead by five or six points at a time. "We can't come from behind on a team like this," Smith says.

This New Mexico State team is bigger than the one of last year that slapped USU around 103-84 in Las Cruces last year, says Smith. It has few individual scoring leaders, making its points off defensive turnarounds. "We've got to make them set up," says Smith. "Their whole game is run, rebound and dunk. If you get them in a halfcourt game, you've got a chance. They struggle.

"On a given night," Smith adds, "they can shoot it really poorly, and then you have a chance."

AGGIE NOTES - Smith reports that senior forward Jeff Parris may have played his final game for USU. Parris was left in Logan for this trip because Smith was dissatisfied with his academic progress and absence from mandatory study halls. He's still NCAA eligible. Parris, however, showed up in Long Beach on his own Thursday night, and Smith doesn't know if he's left school. Parris had a long discussion with USU athletic director Rod Tueller Tuesday and told him he would work at his studies; Smith said he's slipped to a 1.3 GPA. "I haven't talked to him," said Smith. "I want these kids to get grades first - I couldn't let that go."