Utah State coach Stew Morrill had a blunt message for his players about their first appearance in the Top 25 in five years.
The No. 25 Aggies can slip back into obscurity much more quickly
than it took to be ranked again.
"It's great. Feel good about it. Get over it. We've got work to
do," Morrill said. "They all understand that when you're in our
situation, one loss pretty much knocks you out of the national
The Aggies (21-1 overall, 9-0 Western Athletic Conference) are
off to the best start in school history, topping the 2003-04 team
that opened 20-1. That season was also the last time the Aggies
were ranked, which ended 33-year absence from the AP poll.
Utah State, tucked in the mountains about 85 miles north of Salt
Lake City, doesn't get a lot of attention. And after losing guard
Jaycee Carroll, an AP honorable mention All-American, the Aggies
weren't expected to be here, let alone in position for the best
season in school history.
"I'm more excited about that than even being ranked in the
Top-25," forward Gary Wilkinson said. "We've got to keep that
moving forward as well. Winning 21 of your first 22 games is pretty
Wilkinson is the only senior on the team. There are only three
juniors on the roster and three of the starters are sophomores.
The Aggies are often overshadowed in the state by BYU and Utah,
but they have had much more consistency than the Cougars or Utes
over the last 10 years.
Utah State has already clinched its 10th straight 20-win season,
reaching 21 before February. The school record of 28 and even
reaching 30 wins are possibilities. Utah State has nine regular
season games remaining, followed by the WAC tournament and,
barring a major collapse, the NCAA tournament.
The Aggies have gone to the NIT the last two seasons and are
hoping to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since
Morrill, who last season became the winningest coach in school
history, said so far the Aggies have played just well enough to
win, even during their most unlucky moments. Fresno State's
Sylvester Seay hit a 75-foot shot at the buzzer to force overtime
on Saturday, but the Aggies overcame the shock and won 83-77.
Utah State's only loss this season was to BYU, 68-63 on Dec. 6
in Salt Lake City.
Morrill said the Aggies have avoided looking ahead throughout
the streak, which is the third-longest in school history. He wants
that to continue through March, or the great start could become a
"What I expect from every team is to bust their tail, get
better and be coachable," Morrill said. "The players say that I
keep them grounded. That's good to know. That's my job."
Wilkinson, who leads the Aggies in scoring and rebounding, said
Morrill's "get over it" message was typical and expected. The
Aggies haven't had a lot of blowouts during the winning streak and
are averaging a modest 73 points per game.
"I expect that from us as a team," Wilkinson said. "It's
great, but what difference does it make if we lose the next 2-3
games or we don't win a WAC title?"
The Aggies host New Mexico State on Thursday and are at home
again Saturday against Louisiana Tech. Utah State has won 29
straight at the Dee Glenn Smith Spectrum, which will be packed with
rowdy blue-and-white clad fans again this weekend. Although Aggie
fans have had little to cheer about lately during football season,
they make up for it during basketball.
Utah State leads the nation in field goal shooting at 50.7
percent and is holding opponents to about 60 points per game. The
Aggies have been outrebounded in only five games this season and
still been able to win each of them.
"I don't know how to explain it. It's weird. We just seem to
always find a way to win," guard Tai Wesley said. "We seem to
always just come together."