You have to go back nine years to find a Utah State basketball team that won fewer games than the 1990-91 club that finished 11-17 but was 8-10 and tied for fourth in the Big West Conference.

"This year was a little disappointing," admits third-year Coach Kohn Smith, whose team bowed out of the conference tourney in the first round last week, 80-76 to UC-Santa Barbara. "I thought we'd be better than we were, although the league was really tough and we played six games against teams in the top 11 and then BYU (twice), so we played a lot of good teams."Smith also points out, "It was a season of near-misses. We lost six games in the last few seconds, and to win those would have really turned our season around."

The biggest problems were slight height and youth, although forward Bryon Ruffner was named BWC Freshman of the Year. It was still a little much to expect a young body like that to bang with some of the big seniors other clubs had, Smith says.

Senior Randy Funk, who played the other teams' centers, is 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds. Freshman Eric Franson is five pounds bigger. Senior forward Rich Jardine packs all of 205 pounds at 6-8.

"We had to play real well all the time because of our lack of size," Smith says. "We didn't get any easy baskets off rebounds, put-backs and tipins.

"But we were in almost every game without a bona fide post-man," Smith says.

That problem could take care of itself next season, says Smith, because 6-10 freshman Charlie Smith "is improving all the time," and the Aggies will regain 7-0 Nathan Wickhizer after an LDS mission. They'll also have 6-8 Roderick Hay, who's been on campus studying but unable to practice with the club under NCAA guidelines.

They'll also have some bigger help at guard from BYU transfer Todd Gentry, 6-5, and 6-6 incoming freshman Roger Hendrix, an early signee.

"We should be a lot bigger," Smith says.

The Aggies will lose Ruffner and Franson to LDS missions. Funk, Jardine and point guards Allen Gordon and Matt Barnes graduate.

Smith's recruiting wish list includes a junior-college big man and the best freshman athletes he can find. Freshmen will be the main emphasis, he says.

On the really positive side, it will be Kendall Youngblood's senior year, and Jay Goodman will be a year wiser.

Youngblood is the 10th-leading career scorer in USU history with 1,295 points. He'd need 833 points to surpass all-time champion Greg Grant's 2,127 but has a decent chance at making the top five. He dominated his last four games this season, even if the Ags only won one, scoring 29, 34, 33 and 14 points. The 14 points came in the tournament, and eight of them came after he suffered a painful knee bruise. His determination also brought the Ags back from a double-digit deficit in the closing minutes in one of those six "near-misses" Smith was talking about.

Goodman has been praised for his scoring, which included a 33-point game and a couple of 31s, and he's been praised for his ballhandling. He was among league steal leaders the first half of the season. But two ankle sprains stole much of his game from him.