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(Lennie Mahler | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State head coach Stew Morrill argues a foul call with a referee during the team's game against BYU at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013.
Utah State basketball: Stew Morrill approaching win No. 600
USU basketball » Coach focuses on Saturday’s foe, Fresno State, not rare 600th Division I win.
First Published Feb 21 2014 01:54 pm • Last Updated Feb 22 2014 09:08 pm

Logan • Stew Morrill wouldn’t be caught saying one game means more than another over the course of a season — not even to his Utah State team. But he hasn’t always needed to tell them.

After the Aggies dominated Colorado State on its home floor, 71-62, his players and coaches could tell: Winning at his old school meant a lot to the 61-year-old coach.

At a glance

Fresno State at Utah State

At Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, Logan

Tipoff »  7:05 p.m.

Online stream » utahstateaggies.com/videos

Radio »  1280 AM

Records » USU 15-11 (5-9 MWC); FSU 13-14 (6-8)

Series history » USU leads 31-20

Last meeting »  FSU 60, USU 54 (Feb. 4, 2012)

About the Aggies » Only team with three players among the top 15 Mountain West rebounders: Jarred Shaw (8.1 rpg), Kyle Davis (7.4 rpg), and Spencer Butterfield (6.1 rpg). … Coach Stew Morrill is 12-5 against Fresno State as the coach of Utah State, and he has lost just once to the Bulldogs at the Spectrum. … Despite rough shooting nights in each of their last two games, they’re No. 3 nationally in 3-point-shooting (41.4 percent).

About the Bulldogs » Looking to rebound after Wyoming snapped their five-game winning streak Tuesday. … Like the Aggies, they started out slow with a 1-7 conference record, but have since become the only Mountain West team ever to win six conference games following that start. ... Aggies athletic director Scott Barnes was a standout player for Fresno State, averaging 7.4 rebounds per game as a senior and ranking No. 8 in school history with 92 blocks.

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"You could tell he wanted to win that game really badly," Preston Medlin said. "There’s always those teams you play that you want to beat. You could tell he was really motivated; he really wanted us to get a road win in conference."

Similarly, Morrill wouldn’t ever be caught drawing attention to an upcoming milestone in his coaching record: This Saturday against Fresno State, Morrill will be making his third attempt at his 600th career win. He’s declined to comment on that mark several times, saying last week: "It might not happen."

It will happen, sooner or later. And the overwhelming odds are it will happen this season.

And it will happen, assistant coach Tim Duryea said, because of how consistent Morrill has been in his 27 years of coaching. Even in arguably his most difficult year since coming to Utah State, when his team has struggled to a 15-11 record, Morrill has tackled each challenge the same way.

"I think one of the keys is consistency and his approach to everything he does," Duryea said. "He does a good job of compartmentalizing different parts of the year. The preparation for every opponent the same. We make adjustments to our packages, but it’s all under the same umbrella. He knows how he wants to run his program, and that approach has been wildly successful."

Many coaches say they take one game at a time, but very few have made that approach work like Morrill. NAIA or top-10 opponent, players and coaches say he goes through the same process and treats them with the same respect.

When he notches his 600th victory, he’ll be only the 41st Division I head coach to ever reach that plateau, and he’ll be one of only 14 active head coaches with at least that many wins.

Although Morrill has shielded himself from the spotlight, those close to him say he shows a passion for the game and for competing that he doesn’t always let outsiders see. His fire is as much in the film room and in practice as it is on the sideline.

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"That’s kind of how he’s wired," Medlin said. "He wants to always go as hard as he can, coach as hard as he can. … I think he has an attitude that he hates losing. He kind of instills that in his players."

His record reflects his attitude and consistency: 13 straight seasons of 21 wins or more. But that streak is in jeopardy this season unless the Aggies can get hot in the Mountain West tournament or secure an invite to the postseason. Morrill has come under some criticism as his team has been only 5-9 in its new conference.

When coaches reach certain milestones and are sailing through stormy waters, it almost invites questions: How much more does he have? How much longer will he go?

Morrill has thrust himself into this season as much as he has any other, Duryea said. And those questions aren’t in his mind yet. Neither are any milestones.

It’s all about one thing: Win the next game.

"I don’t think he’d be human if he wasn’t proud of what he’s accomplished at Utah State, but I honestly don’t think he spends much time thinking about legacy," he said. "I don’t think he’s looking at the end of his career. He’s just a guy who is focused on the next practice, the next game, the next recruiting class. I think it will always be that way with Coach Morrill."


Twitter: @kylegoon

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