The Aggies have five players who spent the first two years of their careers at junior colleges; four of them will play their last games at the Smith Spectrum tonight when Utah State closes out its home basketball season against Long Beach State at 7:30 p.m.
Rich Jardine, Randy Funk, Allen Gordon and Matt Barnes are the Aggie seniors, and they all came into Coach Kohn Smith's program from junior college last year.Funk and Jardine have played every Aggie game since they joined up, 54 so far, and started most of them. Gordon started 35 of his 52 games. Barnes has played 38 games - an injury took him out the first half of this season - and started 11 last year.
Aside from junior Roger Daley, those in the senior quartet are the only Aggies who've come from junior colleges; the rest have come in as freshmen or transferred after a year somewhere else.
The seniors have served Utah State well, and Funk is ending his career with an especially strong statement. In the past 10 games, he's made 69 percent of his field-goal attempts, averaged 13.7 points and 5.8 rebounds. Those 10 games include three against top-15 teams (UNLV once, New Mexico State twice). He's scored double figures his last six games. Jardine has a career 10.5 scoring average.
Utah State is on a three-game losing streak, but its standing in the Big West Conference hasn't diminished much because of it. The Aggies started last week in third place and are still alone in fourth at 7-8, 10-14 overall.
"We're OK," says Smith, but he adds that tonight's game will be telling. "It's a must game for us if we want to finish third," he says.
Long Beach, which defeated Santa Barbara 89-83 in Long Beach Thursday after losing at home to UNLV Monday, beat the Aggies 89-78 Jan. 25. The 49ers' man-to-man press and height-plus-quickness inside was the difference, particularly in the first half when they outrebounded USU 27-19.
Smith takes some solace in hearsay: "They said that was the best game they've played," he says.
While they are one of the league's poorest-shooting teams, averaging about 42 percent from the field and 64 percent on free throws, the 49ers are also the BWC's second-best rebounding team to help make up for it.
"They're a team full of real good athletes," says Smith.
Point guard Bobby Sears is coming off a career high of 26 points Thursday night; he surprised Smith the last time the teams played by controlling the game tempo better than Smith thought he would. Lucious Harris is the third-leading scorer in the Big West, averaging about 21 points, though he had just 12 Thursday as his backcourt mate took over.