The challenge for us is to play better than we did at Nevada if we’re going to have a chance to win. We’ve got to make some shots, which we didn’t do at Nevada. Hopefully we’ll play with the passion we need to play with. —Utah State coach Stew Morrill
LOGAN — Utah State is already three games into its first regular season in the Mountain West Conference, but so far, the Aggies have only hosted fellow former WAC member San Jose State.
So things haven't been all that different at the Spectrum.
That changes Wednesday night when Colorado State (11-6, 2-2 Mountain West) visits Logan for the first matchup between the old rivals since 1998.
The two schools have met 88 times in their history, which is the fifth-oldest rivalry in USU history. Despite having not played in more than 15 years, the two share a lot of recent history.
Ram head coach Larry Eustachy coached Utah State from 1994 to 1998 and led the Aggies to their first NCAA tournament berth in a decade in his final season in Logan. Eustachy left for Iowa State following the '98 season and was replaced by Stew Morrill, who — at the time — was the head coach at Colorado State.
“That’s 16 years ago. I remember being excited to come here and Larry being here five years and doing a good job,” Morrill said of his memories of coming to Utah State. “I had followed good coaches wherever I’ve coached. I followed Mike Montgomery at Montana, followed Boyd Grant at Colorado State and Larry here. That was something I was used to — the expectations.”
Facing Eustachy is a trip down memory lane, but Morrill is more concerned about his team’s immediate future. Utah State (11-4, 1-2) has stumbled in Mountain West play, and Morrill described his team as "underachievers" on his postgame radio show following a 62-54 loss at Nevada on Saturday.
“You kind of have to flush it,” Morrill said about moving past the loss. “You talk about it for a long time after and you talk a little about it on Monday, but then you have to flush it and move forward.”
To beat CSU, the Aggies will need to shoot better from the field than the 31 percent mark they posted in Reno. USU leading scorers Preston Medlin, Spencer Butterfield and Jarred Shaw all struggled against Nevada, but the Rams could be just what the doctor ordered for the Aggies. CSU allows teams to make almost 38 percent of their 3-point attempts, the worst mark in the conference.
Containing the two-headed monster of guard Daniel Bejarano and forward J.J. Avila will be a key for Utah State's defense. Despite only being 6 foot 4, Bejarano leads the Rams at 9.1 rebounds per game and ranks second in scoring at 15.4 per contest. Avila, a transfer from Navy, is the workhorse inside, leading the team in scoring at 18.6 per game. He averages 7.5 rebounds per game himself.
“Those two guys certainly are their primary scorers,” Morrill said about Avila and Bejarano. “The challenge for us is to play better than we did at Nevada if we’re going to have a chance to win. We’ve got to make some shots, which we didn’t do at Nevada. Hopefully we’ll play with the passion we need to play with.”
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.