As Utah State’s final season in the Western Athletic Conference winds down, so too do several rivalries the Aggies have forged over the years. When Utah State visits New Mexico State on Thursday night, it will signal the beginning of the end for the rivalry between NMSU and USU and likely be the last battle of the Aggies in Las Cruces, N.M., for some time.
“I don’t think either school will be sprinting to schedule each other for a few years,” USU head coach Stew Morrill said. “I think there will be a period where you kind of let it slide for a few years but at some point I think they will get back together.”
Besides the rivalry, neither team will miss the process of getting to the other team's gym. Utah State’s trip to Las Cruces is an 11-hour journey that includes a couple of bus and plane rides, as well as a long layover.
Then when the game tips off, the home fans aren't exactly hospitable. Neither is the opponent on the court. USU is just 2-5 against the "other" Aggies at the Pan American Center since the two schools joined the WAC.
“It’s the various things you deal with — with their crowd and so forth. Then they probably feel the same way when they come here,” Morrill said.
NMSU is Utah State’s 10th-oldest rival. The two schools have played a total of 64 times since their first meeting in 1960-1961. The rivalry goes back so far that Morrill remembers watching this matchup when he was being recruited by Utah State coming out of high school.
“I remember sitting behind the old cage in the old Nelson Fieldhouse and they were playing New Mexico State, who went to the Final Four that year. And Utah State was extremely talented,” Morrill said. “Craig Drury and I were both up to the game. Craig Drury is now the Provo High coach, and has been forever. I turned to him about halfway through that game and said ‘I don’t think you and I can play in this game,’ and he said ‘I think you are right.’ Just unbelievable talent.
"So the rivalry goes back a long, long time.”
The blue Aggies come into the game on a 13-game winning streak, but will need to play better than they have recently to not have that streak snapped. Morrill’s crew survived close calls at home against San Jose State, Idaho and Seattle during a three-game homestand, but playing away from home at New Mexico State is another matter.
“We are going to have to elevate our game a little bit to have a chance to compete with these teams; I really believe that,” Morrill said. “Every time you go into New Mexico State, which is our first challenge, you know you are going to face a very athletic team, a very good rebounding team. Their guards are extremely impressive.”
Following New Mexico State, USU will travel to Denver to face the Pioneers in another battle of top WAC squads Saturday afternoon.
Aggies on the air
Utah State (14-1, 5-0 WAC) at New Mexico State (10-8, 4-2 WAC)
Thursday, 7 p.m. MST
Las Cruces, N.M.
Pan American Center (8,994)
TV: KMYU TV/ESPN3.com
Radio: Aggie Sports Network
Kraig is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.