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Utah State basketball: Aggies, Wolf Pack to renew rivalry

Published January 10, 2014 9:34 pm

USU basketball • Longtime league foes square off in yet another conference.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Over the years, the war between Utah State and Nevada has had its cease-fires. But by coincidence or perhaps by some unseen force, the rivalry always seems to find ways to rekindle.

In the battlegrounds of the Big West and the Western Athletic Conference, the Wolf Pack became one of the Aggies' toughest fights. The two teams seemed to be consistently near the top all the time. Most of the games mattered. Many were close.

It was perhaps surprising, then, to hear Stew Morrill talk about the storied history between the two teams and suddenly seem unsure if the rivalry would resume the intensity it once had.

"There was a time in [the WAC] when we were both battling for the top," Morrill said. "I think it's hard to predict where the rivalries will fall in this league as time goes on. We just don't know."

This weekend may set the tone for just how the rivalry continues. The scene appears to be set for another grudge match between Utah State (11-3, 1-1) and Nevada (8-8, 3-0)

Just prior to conference play, it appeared the Wolf Pack didn't have much of a follow-up for their last-place finish in their first year in the Mountain West. But with a few key additions — eligibility for center A.J. West and the return of a healthy Marqueze Coleman — Nevada has rolled to a 3-0 start.

Utah State itself has benefited from the recent reinstatement of Jarred Shaw, who has helped balance out the Aggies on offense. When Utah State is playing its best, it can be coldly efficient on the attack: The team shoots 43 percent from 3-point range, outrebounds opponents by more than 11, and assists on nearly 70 percent of its field goals.

"They're a good team, and we're a pretty good team ourselves," Preston Medlin said. "It could be a rivalry again, I think. We're just trying to see how this one game goes."

At the Lawlor Events Center, where the Wolf Pack have won 79 percent of their games, even a few current Aggies have tasted defeat. The last was brutal: a 53-52 loss in which Deonte Burton knocked down a game-winning 3-pointer in Medlin's face.

"I think having that experience will help," junior forward Ben Clifford said. "We know that environment down there. We know that these two teams have a pretty good history. They've played some legendary games at the Spectrum."

Utah State went 10-7 against the Wolf Pack as a WAC foe. That included a conference debut win at Lawlor, a 2007 overtime win at home over then-ranked Nevada, and a string of five straight victories in the 2009-2011 heyday. It also included a 2-1 tournament record against the Wolf Pack.

Some of the loudest games ever at the Spectrum came against Nevada. But will it be the same again?

The Aggies and the Wolf Pack were both picked to be middle-of-the-road Mountain West teams, but with the league looking a little weaker than expected, there could be wiggle room. Higher stakes in conference play could build this interstate battle to where it once was.

A good game or two to start up again wouldn't hurt either. —

Utah State at Nevada

O At Lawlor Events Center, Reno, Nev.

Tipoff •Â Saturday, 6:05 p.m.

Radio •Â 1280 AM

Records •Â USU 11-3, 1-1; UNR 8-8, 3-0

Series history • USU leads 32-14

Last meeting • UNR 53, USU 52 (Feb. 2, 2012)

About the Aggies • Utah State currently ranks top 10 nationally in 3-point percentage (No. 4, 43.0 percent), assists per game (No. 5, 18.1 apg), and rebounding margin (No. 6, plus-11.3). … Senior guard Preston Medlin is No. 5 nationally with a 3.87 assist-to-turnover ratio. … Utah State has a 13-11 record against Nevada on the road.

About the Wolf Pack •Â Nevada has won three games in a row for the first time in Mountain West play and the first time in 29 games. … Senior guard Deonte Burton leads the Mountain West with 22.3 points per game, good for No. 8 in the country. … The Wolf Pack blocked 10 shots against UNLV, including a team-high five by center A.J. West.