When Utah State visits Louisiana Tech on Thursday night there will be a familiar storyline. One team is rolling through conference play and has just cracked into the top 25 nationally. The other team is trying to snap its opponent's winning streak and gain some positive momentum going into the Western Athletic Conference tournament.
The Aggies (19-7, 9-5) have been in the spot of the favorite in this scenario many times over the last few years. This season, however, they are the underdog and it is Louisiana Tech (24-3, 14-0) making the national noise. The Bulldogs are riding a 16-game winning streak and are nationally ranked for the first time since 1984-85 when Karl Malone still suited up in Ruston.
While Louisiana Tech is on the verge of capturing the WAC regular season title at 14-0 in conference play, the Aggies are stuck in a tie for fourth at 9-5 and have been mathematically eliminated from winning their fifth WAC title in eight years in the conference.
“I’m sure with being nationally ranked and with the year they’re having, we’ll see a lot better crowd than we’ve seen in all the years we’ve been going there,” USU head coach Stew Morrill said.
To break through and win in Ruston the Aggies will need point guards Marcel Davis and TeNale Roland to continue to improve their level of play and not turn the ball over. Against Illinois State the duo combined for 22 points and 10 assists and just four turnovers. The Bulldogs' athleticism and ability to press will test the Aggies' ability to take care of the ball.
“A lot of times, the press-breaker is not Xs and Os, it’s personnel,” Morrill said. “It’s guys being able to make the right plays against the press. Our point guards are gaining confidence. I think they’ll be better against it than they were the other night and probably better than they were the last time we played them.”
Handling the press has been an issue for Morrill’s crew all season long, but is without an easy solution. The Aggies lack big men who can handle the ball to help out the guard line and, because of a rash of injuries, have a hard time simulating an effective press in practices.
“First of all, we don’t have a ton of guys,” Morrill said about practicing press-break scenarios. “Second of all our scout squad is not very quick. With managers and coaches (on the scout squad) it is really non-quick. Trying to simulate the press is a slow-motion press at best.”
The Aggies will spend around 11 hours getting from Logan to Ruston to take on Louisiana Tech to start their final road trip of the season. Utah State moves on to UT-Arlington on Saturday night to finish off the trip.
Utah State (19-7, 9-5 WAC) at #25 Louisiana Tech (24-3, 14-0 WAC)
Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013 • 6 p.m. MST • Ruston, La. — Thomas Assembly Center (8,000)
RADIO: Aggie Sports Network
TV: ESPN Regional TV / Altitude 2 • ESPN3.com
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.