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Tom Smart, Deseret News
The maturing play of forward Brady Jardine, here in action against Morehead State, has given Utah State a big lift.

LOGAN — For a guy averaging just 4.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, Brady Jardine sure gets lots of love from Aggie fans.

And lots of tough love from Utah State coaches.

The reason for both is the same — Jardine's athleticism and potential have coaches and fans alike drooling with the prospects of an above-the-rim player who electrifies crowds with thunderous dunks and demoralizes opponents with out-of-nowhere blocked shots.

But the sophomore's enthusiasm sometimes got the better of him and he'd find himself on the bench after a blown defensive assignment or an ill-advised attempt to follow a missed shot with an offensive rebound dunk.

"Brady has so much energy sometimes it's hard for him to control it all," Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. "He's like a spring just waiting to go off."

When he does go off, he's spectacular.

And lately, he's been going off a lot more often — and with a lot more control.

Tonight, the 15-6 Aggies — winners of five in a row and poised to make another run at a WAC regular season title — host San Jose State. And Jardine, who has seen his playing time increase to 15 minutes per game during WAC play, will be one of the first off the bench — having earned those minutes and Morrill's trust with his calmer approach to the game.

"I got to the point where I decided to just go out and enjoy playing," Jardine said after he helped USU beat Idaho in Moscow last weekend. "I was putting too much pressure on myself. Now, I'm just letting the game come to me and enjoying my time on the court."

Which makes sense, considering the enjoyment he's providing the Aggie fans who eagerly anticipate one of his highlight-reel plays.

Though just 6-foot-7, Jardine is the Aggie who plays above the rim more than anyone else on the roster. According to the Utah State media guide, Jardine has a 43-inch vertical jump.

The athleticism, coupled with perhaps a touch of overconfidence that came from being able to do virtually anything he wanted while on a high school basketball floor, led to some awkward — and frustrating — moments as a freshman.

What began as a redshirt season changed 11 games into the year when USU center Modou Niang broke a bone in his hand. Short on post depth, Morrill had no choice but to take the redshirt off Jardine before he was truly ready to play.

The result was a 34-percent shooting season and twice as many personal fouls as baskets.

Fast forward a year, and Jardine was still displaying some of the tendencies that left him pulled from games after a mistake.

Slowly, however, Jardine found a way to play within himself. He started making shots (shooting a team-best 66.7 percent in WAC games) and playing more within Morrill's system — one that requires individual responsibility on both ends of the floor on each possession.

"Brady's maturing," Morrill said. "He gives us the athlete we sorely need in this league. He's such an athletic post that he allows us to match up better against the athletic teams in the WAC."

And he's strong.

One look at Jardine and you can tell the kid hits the weight room. That strength and athleticism compensates for a height that leaves him on the short end of WAC power forwards. But it also provides for some surprised looks from 7-footers who have their shots rejected by the quick-rising Jardine.

"Any time you get a shot blocked or altered, it's in the back of the guy's head," Jardine said after the Aggies' game at Idaho. "They missed some shots tonight and that showed."

Jardine has taken over the No. 1 spot off the bench for Morrill's post players. If Tai Wesley or Nate Bendall need a break, Jardine is the first person Morrill looks to.

Jardine's averages, accordingly, are up. After a lackluster start to the season, the sophomore is averaging 6.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per WAC game. For the season, he's averaging 80 percent from the free-throw line and ranks in the WAC's top 10 for blocked shots.

He's also one of the sneakier rebounders in the league. When a teammate throws up a shot, Jardine is working on position. He's as good as the Aggies get at offensive rebounds and he has a knack for throwing the ball back through the hoop.

Tonight, his presence and athleticism will come in handy as the Aggies try to slow down the WAC's surprise team.

San Jose State has made a surge in the standings and has one of the league's best scorers and a dominating post player.

Adrian Oliver is a flashy junior wing player averaging 22.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Senior center Chris Oakes is a walking double-double with 11.8 points and 10 rebounds per game.

The Spartans, 12-8 overall and 5-3 in WAC play, have won four of their last five. But SJSU has yet to win a conference game away from home, and the crazies at the Spectrum will be ready to roar after the Aggies have spent the last two weeks without a home game.

NOTE: Following the game, Utah State will hold a brief ceremony honoring Morrill for winning his 500th game as a college head coach. That win, a 60-48 decision at Idaho last week, gave him a 500-235 record in 24 years as a Division I head coach.

Brady Jardine

Height: 6-foot-7

Weight: 225 pounds

Year: Sophomore

Hometown: Twin Falls, Idaho

Major: Finance

Inside scoop: 2005 Idaho 5A player of the year. Led Twin Falls High to 5A state title as a senior. ... Served LDS Mission to San Antonio, Texas. ... Married to Jenna Oldroyd last October. ... Has a 43-inch vertical leap.

Aggies on the air

USU (15-6, 5-2 WAC) vs. San Jose St. (12-8, 5-3)

Smith Spectrum, Logan

Tonight, 7 p.m.

TV: CW 30 Radio: 610 AM, 1320 AM, 95.9 FM

e-mail: jeborn@desnews.com