LOGAN — Basketball season is just beginning, but Utah State might face its toughest home test this season when the Aggies (1-0) host Saint Mary's (1-0) tonight in the Spectrum.
Utah State is coming off a 56-48 win against Idaho State at home, but knows it will need to play much better to beat a Saint Mary's team that many project to challenge BYU and Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference this season.
"We will see where we are at," Utah State head coach Stew Morrill said. "It's going to be really interesting. (Saint Mary's) is an experienced high-quality team with great players. We are a work in progress with a lot of parts trying to fit together."
Utah State and Saint Mary's, with some help from ESPN, have carved out a nice little rivalry over the last few seasons. The series started as a prime-time matchup in ESPN's Bracketbusters in 2009 with the Gaels taking a 75-64 victory on their home floor. Saint Mary's won the return game in the Spectrum the following season 68-63 to snap Utah State's 37-game home winning streak in the Spectrum. The Aggies broke through in the series with a 75-65 victory in their last meeting, in the 2011 edition of the Bracketbusters matchup.
While fans and coaches are familiar with the matchup, the players are not. Only Preston Medlin on the current Aggie roster has played against the Gaels, logging 11 minutes and two points in the 2010 matchup in Logan.
"(The players) aren't as familiar with them as the coaches, but they will be," Morrill said.
Saint Mary's is led by senior guard Matthew Dellavedova who, unlike nearly the entire Utah State roster, is a veteran of these matchups. The Australian played 38 minutes in each of the teams' previous two matchups, scoring a combined 20 points.
"He's one of the best guards in the country," Morrill said. "He's involved in a ton of their plays, whether it is shooting the ball, or passing it into the post."
Dellavedova is the primary option for the Gaels this year. In the Gaels' season-opener against Sonoma State he scored 20 points while adding five assists and five steals against Sonoma State.
Dellavedova won't be the only familiar face either. One of the primary options off the bench for the Gaels is former Aggie James Walker, who transferred from Utah State following his freshman season. After a year in the junior college ranks Walker has now found a home at Saint Mary's.
To win against the big and skilled Gaels, USU will need to find a way to adjust to the physical style of play Saint Mary's brings. The Aggies were flummoxed at times against Idaho State's aggressive zone defense, resulting in 17 turnovers. Saint Mary's likely won't employ the same zone scheme, but instead will rely on the high-pressure man-to-man defense that has been one of the team's calling cards under head coach Randy Bennett.
"They are physical. They play extremely hard and are big at every position," Morrill said of the Gaels. "That's been one of the concerns with this team since training camp — just how physical are we?"