LOGAN — It is not often that a college basketball team faces a huge, made-for-television, non-conference matchup in late-February, but that's what's in store for the Utah State Aggies as they travel to face Saint Mary's College in an ESPN Bracket Buster matchup tonight.
The game will not be unfamiliar territory for the Aggies, either. Two years ago, ESPN also sent Utah State out to Moraga, Calif., for a Bracket Buster contest that the Gaels won, 75-64.
Last season in the return game, Saint Mary's snapped Utah State's 37-game home winning streak with a 68-63 victory in the Spectrum at Logan.
"We are obviously very familiar with them, and the games we have had with them the last several years have been tough outings for us," USU coach Stew Morrill said. "The main thing for our guys is that they approach this game as an opportunity and are excited about getting to go compete. That is the way we need to approach it as a team."
Much of the Saint Mary's team that Utah State saw last season is still intact, with the notable exception of Omar Samhan, the Gaels' big man who gave the Aggies fits last season. To counter-balance his absence, Saint Mary's relies even more on its deadly outside game.
"They are a physical team, they are a great shooting team and they have really come to rely on their perimeter game now that (Omar) Samhan has moved on," Morrill said.
The backcourt is led by Matthew Dellavedova and Mickey McConnell. The duo combines for nearly 30 points and 12 assists a game in the Gaels' free-flowing offense that ranks 12th in the nation in points per game at 80.3 and fourth in field-goal percentage at 49.5.
"Saint Mary's guard combo (Dellavedova and McConnell) is very good, I would put them in the same category as Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery for BYU," Morrill said. "They are that same type of talented guard combo, and they are going to be a tremendous challenge for us. The plays they make, the passes they make and the shots they make are very impressive, and add on top of all of that they are good defenders. It all starts there for this team."
Morrill was also quick to point out that it is not just a two-man show for the Gaels.
"(Rob) Jones at the four position is their second-leading scorer," Morrill said. "They rotate a lot at the five position, and I think most people remember what their three, (Clint) Steindl, did to us last year by knocking down some big shots.
"Their perimeter shooting is a very big concern and the question is if we can guard those guys on a consistent basis. We won't have to double the post as much with Samhan gone, but with Jones down there, we will still have to give the double look against him at times. You can't go into this game thinking that their post players aren't going to impact the game much because they will and they are very talented."
The game will also give the Aggies a chance to improve the national perception of their team and collect a win against a quality opponent, albeit on the road again.
"We've played three top 25 teams on the road this year," Morrill said about facing BYU, Georgetown and Saint Mary's on the road. "Obviously you are the underdog and you are up against it. They haven't lost a home game and they are a top 25 team right with us. It's a challenge, but I think our guys are excited about it and looking forward to it."
Aggies on the air
No. 25 Utah State (24-3, 12-1 WAC) at Saint Mary's (22-5, 10-2 WCC)
Tonight, 7 p.m.
McKeon Pavilion, Moraga, Calif.
TV: ESPN2 Radio: 610 AM, 1320 AM, 95.9 FM