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Steve Luhm and Lya Wodraska
Steve Luhm and Lya Wodraska cover Utah State athletics for The Salt Lake Tribune. Lya Wodraska is on twitter at @LyaWodraska, Steve Luhm is on twitter at @sluhm

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Utah State hoops faces big challenge against Gauchos

Logan • One down, two to go for Utah State this weekend.

The Aggies took care of Western Illinois to keep the team's now 46-game winning streak in its holiday tournament alive. But business shifts immediately to Friday night, where Utah State (7-2) will look for a season sweep of UC Santa Barbara (6-3)

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"You don't have much time to think about this one," coach Stew Morrill acknowledged.

The Aggies' have already beaten the Gauchos on the road this year, but UCSB played without star forward Alan Williams, who leads the team in points, rebounds and blocks. If there's a faint sense of deja vu, that's because it might occur to you that this time around, it will be Utah State that will be playing without its leader in all of those categories.

The first game without Jarred Shaw went fairly well on Thursday night, but definitely had its bumps. The positives were Kyle Davis' scoring and ability to draw fouls in the low post. Utah State didn't have trouble rebounding against the Leathernecks, drawing a 34-18 advantage on the boards.

Starting his first game this season, Jordan Stone had some first half foul trouble, but came back with a solid defensive effort.

"He's a brick wall out there," Morrill said of the burly Stone in the paint. "They kept running into him. You run into him, you know you ran into something."

But there remain some unsettling issues: When Stone is on the bench, which is inevitable, the Aggies lack the size to bang inside on both sides of the ball. Utah State did a convincing job against Western Illinois with a zone that was tough to penetrate, but Davis and Ben Clifford don't have size comparable to legitimate centers, and they can get pushed around.

So what will happen against Williams, a shorter but big-bodied forward who averages a double-double? It will be hard to say until the Aggies show up Friday night.

Some specifics could help: Stone must stay out of foul trouble, and Davis and Clifford must be able to hold their own and find ways to score and rebound inside. Troy narrowly missed the chance to beat the Gauchos on Thursday, so perhaps the coaching staff picked up some things in scouting that game.

Whatever Utah State does, it will need to play with the effort it brought to its first win of the tournament if it hopes to win again Friday.

— Kyle Goon


Twitter: @kylegoon

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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