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USU-BYU rivalry new to current Aggies

Published February 18, 2013 7:11 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Jarred Shaw said the right things. At least, the right things for never having played BYU before.

He said he was looking forward to going to the Marriott Center. He said he had never personally been there, but that he'd be ready to play.

"It's just a rivalry in-state, but we'll approach it the same way as any game," he said.

Shaw and his fellow teammates haven't quite experienced the weight of the rivalry between BYU and Utah State, one that has sometimes been derided by some fans as not being a "true" rivalry. It's certainly passionate, and it usually features some pretty good basketball.

One extraordinary fact about the series is that it is particularly hard to win on the road. The last time Utah State won in Provo was in 2004. BYU won at the Spectrum in 2000. Most of the time in recent history, the home team holds serve.

Last year was no exception for the Aggies, who topped the Cougars 69-62 in Logan in November 2011. Of the healthy Utah State roster, only one player saw time: Jordan Stone. Everyone else is a transfer, was sitting, or — in the case of Marcel Davis — is a freshman.

That doesn't mean Utah State is completely out of its element, however. Utah natives Stone, Davis, Ben Clifford and Connor Garner are certainly acquainted with the in-state implications of this Tuesday's game. Davis, who is from American Fork only about a stone's throw away from Provo, will have a small legion of family and friends watching him — and maybe most of them in his corner.

And coach Stew Morrill, the veteran of many battles with BYU over the years, is at the helm. And when it comes to the Cougars, he's never one to sleep on them.

"You always have the same challenges no matter where you play them," he said. "They always have guys who can really score, they're always extremely well-coached."

Bubbles busted, but still an important game for USU

At this point, BYU and Utah State would probably need a conference tournament win to get a partner in the Big Dance. The Aggies have five conference losses in what figures to be a one-big WAC, while the Cougars dropped surprise contests to San Diego and San Francisco that basically has taken them out of the at-large discussion for now.

Still, wins will be critical for either program, and probably moreso for Utah State. If BYU misses the NCAA tournament, it will likely lock up an NIT berth. Utah State is still trying to prove itself worthy of that much.

My colleague Jay Drew pointed out in his pregame post that the Aggies are probably a close miss for the NIT with their profile at this point. A weak non-conference schedule has hurt them — at the moment, Utah State's best win is probably over 19-8 Santa Clara, a team BYU has beaten twice.

Similarly, BYU doesn't want another loss to another sub-100 RPI team. And if the Aggies can make a late push in the WAC and perhaps improve that standing, BYU stands to benefit from it — provided the Cougars win on Tuesday.

BYU comes in advance of Utah State's BracketBuster game, a match-up that looks more challenging with each passing Illinois State victory. Morrill, who has bristled at times when folks call him a soft scheduler, said this week will definitely stick out in the season profile.

"We get criticized all the time, that is the nature of scheduling, and our non-conference schedule RPI will definitely go up with these two opponents," he said. "Not that too many people pays too much attention to RPI when you're in our shoes that we are right now, just trying to battle and win any games we can."

— Kyle Goon

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon