Logan • It was a 3-pointer that didn't quite have the feel of a game-winning shot. After Raheem Appleby launched the go-ahead basket, there was more than a minute left.
But time ran out in that game, a 51-48 loss that had been close to ending Utah State's then-losing streak. It was a turning point, a game in which the Aggies knew they could compete even without injured stars.
On Thursday, Utah State (19-7, 9-5) will have a fresh 40 minutes to try to upend the Western Athletic Conference's top team, now ranked No. 25 in the country.
"It's always fun being the underdog," sophomore forward Ben Clifford said. "You go in, and it's you against the world."
The Aggies have won five of their past seven games, and in many ways find themselves heading to Ruston, La., a changed team.
In the seven games since Louisiana Tech, the Aggies have shot for a better field-goal percentage than their opponents. They've learned new roles, as Jarred Shaw and Spencer Butterfield have stepped up as more potent scorers. Their two losses have come by a combined five points.
Behind the scenes, that game appeared to give Utah State plenty of reason to believe in itself. While mediocre practice habits were a consistent refrain from Stew Morrill early in the season, that criticism has stopped. Even with no substitutes in practice sessions, he still sees this group trying to make the most of its new identity.
"For the most part, they've practiced well," he said. "They've dealt with adversity the way you should deal with it, not the way you always do. I'm proud of this group to this point. I can't see them changing no matter what happens wins-and-losses-wise."
Steady. Consistent. They don't always win, but they'll give anybody a good game.
Louisiana Tech should be no exception. The Bulldogs, ranked for the first time since Karl Malone played for them, are a tough, defensively swarming opponent. They've beaten the Aggies the past two times they've played, including last year in the WAC Tournament.
But the ranking, the revenge factor, and the chance to ruin a perfect WAC run by Louisiana Tech is just icing. The Aggies want to show something about themselves.
They want to prove they're better now.
"We've been on a better roll," TeNale Roland said. "We were learning then. We've got it down now."
Utah State at No. 25 La. Tech
O Thomas Assembly Center (Ruston, La.)
Tipoff • Thursday, 6 p.m.
TV • Altitude 2
Radio • 97.5 FM
Records • Utah State 19-7, 9-5; Louisiana Tech 24-3, 14-0
Series history • Utah State leads 14-4
Last meeting • La. Tech 51, USU 48 (Jan. 26, 2013)
About the Aggies • Utah State is resuming WAC play after splitting a pair of nonconference games against BYU and Illinois State. â¦ Coach Stew Morrill is one win away from his 14th consecutive 20-win season. â¦ Jarred Shaw had his eighth double-double of the season against Illinois State to lead the team; he also had one in the last meeting with the Bulldogs.
About the Bulldogs • Louisiana Tech entered the AP rankings for the first time since the 1984-85 season this week, checking in at No. 25. â¦ The Bulldogs are ranked No. 15 in the country in steals. â¦ Center Michale Kyser is No. 16 in the country in blocked shots, averaging 2.78 per game.