LOGAN — Are they technically still in-state rivals when they haven’t faced off against each other in seven years?
The Aggies (5-5) and Utes (6-2) will find out Saturday night when they play for the first time since the 2010-11 season during the Beehive Classic at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Current Utah State head coach Tim Duryea was an assistant under Stew Morrill the last time the Aggies battled Utah, but Friday afternoon he struggled to remember any details of USU’s 79-62 victory at the Spectrum.
“It’s just amazing that it’s been that long,” Duryea noted. “It definitely doesn’t feel like seven years. But I do remember that we played well.”
While the Utes were in the final season of Jim Boylen’s four-year run, that Aggie team ended going 30-4. Senior forward Tal Wesley led the way with 21 points, and junior forward Brady Jardine put up 20 points and pulled down 13 rebounds as USU defeated Utah in Logan for the seventh straight time.
Current Utah head coach Larry Krystowiak, who played at Montana while Morrill was an assistant for the Grizzlies, was hired the following April.
“You remember that series with Utah all the way back to Coach (Rick) Majerus, and (Ray) Giacoletti and Boylen and all those guys, including (Dick) Hunsaker and interim coach Joe Cravens,” Duryea said. “Larry’s the only guy we haven’t squared up against, which is kind of ironic because of he and Stew’s history together, you would have thought things would have kept going. But that was about the time things ground to a halt.”
AGGIES VS. FORMER AGGIES: One thing that could quickly reignite the Utah-Utah State rivalry, however, is the presence of David Collette. The senior forward from Murray is in his second season with the Utes after deciding to transfer away from the Aggies just days before the start of Duryea’s inaugural season as a head coach in November 2015.
Due to the lateness of his decision, Utah State refused to honor Collette’s request for an immediate release, and he had to sit out the entire 2015-16 season and part of 2016-17 while paying his own tuition for his first two terms at Utah. Although neither party pulled a lot of punches during the awkward situation, Duryea suggested on Friday that he has moved on from the incident.
“It is what it is,” he stated. “Every season and with every team, you get invested in that team and that season and what you’re going through. And everything else is really so far in the past that it’s really hard to remember that far back.
“Presently, I’m just focused on our team, and how we can get better.”
Senior guard Julion Pearre, who was a freshman on the 2014-15 team, is the only current Aggie who played with Collette.
Colette, who was second on the Aggies in scoring (12.8 ppg) and rebounding (5.0 ppg) in 2014-15, started all 22 games he played in last year, averaging 13.6 points per outing. Through eight games this season, Collette is shooting 57.6 percent from the floor and averaging a team-high 13.8 ppg.
“I just really started watching them, and I didn’t really watch them last year since we didn’t play them,” Duryea said of Collette and the Utes. “So, I have a limited sample size, but from what I’ve seen, (Collette) is obviously a good offensive player, a good passer and is playing hard. It looks like he’s doing a good job to me.”
In addition to Collette, the Utah bench also includes a face familiar to the Aggies in Chris Jones, who is serving as the Utes’ director of operations after spending seven years as an assistant coach under Morrill and one season as an assistant to Duryea.
BUG BATTLING: After getting blindsided by a rash of injuries in the latter half of November, the Aggies continue to get healthier — but they aren’t all the way back.
Duryea said that sophomore guard Diogo Brito is “close to 100 percent” after suffering a sprained ankle at Valparaiso on Nov. 28, while senior guard Julion Pearre “is kind of grinding his way” after missing the first eight games with a calf injury. Pearre has gone 0 for 4 from the floor while playing 29 minutes over the past two games.
“He’s not in game shape yet,” Duryea said. “His calf fatigues really quickly, and he hasn’t been able to get back in the flow yet.”
Koby McEwen is also looking forward to having a week off from game action after Saturday’s game. The sophomore guard suffered a high-ankle sprain on Nov. 15, and has played in only three of USU’s last seven games. McEwen scored 20 points in the loss to BYU on Dec. 2, but he struggled mightily (1 for 11, nine points) while battling his way through 33 minutes against UC Irvine on Wednesday.
“I’ll be fine. But I’m a little beat up, running off of those screens and stuff,” McEwen said.
McEwen went down hard a few times against the Anteaters, including once after teammate DeAngelo Isby accidentally barreled into him while heading up the court in transition.
“Koby’s been practicing on a limited basis,” Duryea said. “We’re still trying to hold him out of some things and take precautions so he’ll be able to answer the bell the next game. Hopefully at some point we can get past that, get him on a regular cycle and not have to worry about it.”