Utah State will close out the regular season with a road game against Fresno State tonight in a contest that could give the Aggies sole possession of third place in the final Big West Conference standings.
The Aggies moved into a three-way tie for third place Thursday night by defeating UC-Irvine 95-94 in overtime - after rallying from a 14-point deficit in the final seven minutes of regulation. USU, UC-Santa Barbara and Long Beach State all own 10-7 league records.Santa Barbara plays in Irvine (8-9) tonight, while Long Beach State plays Fullerton State (9-8) in Long Beach.
In the meantime, USU, 12-14 overall, will meet Fresno State, 13-13 overall and 8-9 in league play, beginning at 6 p.m. MST. In their first conference game of the season, the Bulldogs defeated the Aggies 76-72 on Jan. 3 in Logan.
Fresno State is led by Jervis Cole, who averages 18 points a game. He scored 27 points in the first game against USU.
The Fresno game will be a sharp contrast to the run-and-gun style of Thursday's Irvine game. "Against Fresno, (we expect) a slower tempo, controlled half-court game," USU Coach Kohn Smith said.
As usually is the case, Fresno State leads the Big West Conference in defense. The Bulldogs allow opponents to shoot 43 percent from the field and to score an average of only 63 points a game. On the other end of the court, the Bulldogs, who rank second only to USU in free throw percentage, score an average of 67 points a game.
The Aggies had to be encougaged by the play of Darrel White and Stan Pepek Thursday night. In his previous five games, White had scored a total of just 22 points. Against Irvine he had 14 points, hitting 5 of 6 shots from the field.
Pepek, a seldom-used reserve center who had scored more than four points only once all year until last week, scored 12 points in 14 minutes of play against Irvine. This followed a 13-point outing against Pacific in the previous game.
The Aggies also got good play from their starting center. After being held scoreless against Pacific, Greg Houskeeper scored a team-high 17 points Thursday, hitting 6 of 7 from the field and all five of his free throws. He scored six of the Aggies' first eight points in overtime.