Randy Funk is a Hyrum boy, a Utah State University senior coming off his best basketball game of the season. Eric Franson is an American Fork freshman who maybe didn't play his finest Saturday in New Mexico but has a chance to put that behind him Monday night.
Utah State - seniors and freshmen and everything between - gets what could be a once-a-lifetime treat."I know I'll never do it again - play the No. 1 team in the nation at home," says Funk. "It's a good opportunity for us. We really want to get after it."
Like Funk, Franson and the other underclassmen who play top-ranked and unbeaten UNLV in the Spectrum Monday night at 10 p.m. - live on ESPN-TV - have never experienced anything quite like this. Should the Rebels stay on top in coming years, it could become routine for USU, but for now, it's unique. It's expected that the Spectrum will be crammed.
"From what they tell me," says Franson, "it's going to be a madhouse. I'm looking forward to participating in it. It might be one of the only chances you get to play a No. 1 team."
"As a college athlete," says Aggie Coach Kohn Smith, "this will be one of the best games they could ever play in - the No. 1 team in the country, the Spectrum full of people, a nationally televised game. That's just a great experience for our guys."
Franson says he has no apprehensions, even though he'll probably start inside against the likes of Larry Johnson, picked by many as college basketball's best player, and George Ackles.
"(Saturday) was a good preparation, playing in a place like that, although this time it's going to be for us instead of against us," says Franson about the Aggies' 86-66 loss at No. 23 New Mexico State, where fans lean to the rabid side. Franson had no points and two rebounds in that game; Funk had 21 points, 10 rebounds to lead both teams.
And, of course, the Aggies played at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center 21/2 weeks ago. The Aggies trailed by five at the half, 59-54, before their shooting touch deserted them and they fell 124-93. The defending national champion has since jumped its unbeaten streak to 26 games, 15-0 this season.
"Every time we've played them up there, it's been close," says UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian. "Nothing is certain. I hope our kids realize that."
The Rebels have only to think back to that first half in Las Vegas if they need motivation in the third game of a four-game road trip that took them from Santa Barbara, Calif., to Louisville, Ky., to Logan and will yet send them to San Jose, Calif. "Utah State played great that half," Tarkanian says. "We played great the second half."
Guard Anderson Hunt called it one of UNLV's best second halves of the year Saturday in Louisville when the Rebs planted a 97-85 win. Hunt missed the first Utah State game with an injury but will be back Monday night.
Smith hints he'll stay with the philosophy that frustrated the Rebels for a half Jan. 9, though it's no surprise now. That was to handle the ball with three guards as far on the perimeter as possible, make outside shots, get Ackles and Johnson and backup center Elmore Spencer to come out to guard forwards and run cuts for layups.
"We've got to get their big people away from the basket. I don't think we can pound the ball against Johnson, Ackles and Spencer," Smith says.
One problem: The Ags probably won't have senior forward Jeff Parris to bang inside should they have to go to the middle. Parris started the last UNLV game. Smith left him home last weekend because of poor study habits; Parris, perhaps defiantly, showed up to watch Thursday's game in Long Beach.