BOISE, Idaho - When the Aggies take the court at Taco Bell Arena tonight, first place in the Western Athletic Conference will be on the line.
Sure, it is only the third week of men's basketball action in the league, but Utah State and Boise State are the only two teams with unblemished records. The Broncos (11-5, 4-0) actually holds a half game lead over the Aggies (14-2, 3-0). USU brings a nine-game winning streak into the game, while Boise State has won four in a row.
"This whole week is huge for us." Aggie forward Brady Jardine said. "If we can find a way to get two road wins, that's two of the top teams in the league. If we could beat them on their home floor, that would be a huge advantage for the rest of the league and season for us.
"It's one game at a time. Boise State first, but if we could get that done and go to Fresno (State) and play well, that would be huge as far as helping us win the league this year."
After playing the Broncos tonight, USU does head to Fresno, Calif., for a game on Saturday. The Bulldogs are 3-1 in WAC play.
Tip-off tonight is scheduled for 8:15, but could be later as the Bronco women play a game before the WAC showdown.
"I've never liked doubleheaders, at home or on the road, unless there is a gap there so you know when it (start time) will be," USU head coach Stew Morrill said. "... You hang out a lot (with doubleheaders). You don't know what time the game is going to start. It's a pain."
The Aggies boarded a bus Wednesday afternoon after a practice and spent four-and-a-half hours getting to Boise. For Jardine, traveling to the Gem State capital always means a little more. The junior grew up a few hours southeast of Boise in Twin Falls. The drive to the Tree City is closer for his family than coming to Logan.
"It's fun for me to go to Boise," said Jardine, who has been coming off the bench and averaging 8.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, while blocking 1.1 shots. "I've played a lot of tournaments in that gym in high school. It's fun to go back and be in a town I'm used to being in. ... The game is always exciting."
USU has had some good games with Boise State in Taco Bell Arena. The Aggies have also suffered some tough losses their.
"To me, this game is no different than any other game," Jardine said. "I will try and work as hard as I can. This year is going to be fun and exciting with Boise State playing as well as they are, first in the conference. I'm excited to go back to my home state, but more excited to play a good team."
Which is what this Bronco team is. Boise State started the season with six consecutive wins, as they return four seniors with plenty of playing experience. A new coach in Leon Rice has added some talented freshmen to the mix as well.
Picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the WAC, Boise State has turned some heads with its quick start in league play. Last week the Broncos won at San Jose State in four overtimes, 102-101, then two nights later won easily at Hawaii, 79-55. USU swept the Spartans and Rainbow Warriors as well, but both of those games were in Logan and were close contests.
"They have a lot of veterans back and a lot of talent, so I'm not surprised at all with their record," Jardine said. "They are tough, so we've got to play well."
The 4-0 start for Boise State is its best in league action since the 1998-99, when it was a member of the Big West Conference. The Broncos last 5-0 start in conference play was 1987-88, when they were in the Big Sky Conference.
The Aggies are hoping that streak doesn't end for the hosts.
In order for USU to get a road win, they will have to be disciplined and play good defense against a team that is capable of scoring quick and fast. The Aggies will also need to keep an eye out for La'Shard Anderson, who averages 2.4 steals a game.
"He is the deal," Morrill said of Anderson. "He kind of sets the tone for how they play. ... He leads the break a lot of times and gets them playing fast. ... He is one of the better guards in the league right now, no question."
Then there is Paul Noonan, who can post up or shoot 3-pointers, where he is making 44.6 percent of his long-range shots. Morrill compared him to Aggie great Spencer Nelson, who could play on the wing and inside.
"I think it is always tough for basketball in Boise to get some attention because it is such a football oriented place, but they (basketball) are getting attention now," Morrill said. "We, at times, have drawn big crowds when we go in there. I would be surprised if that isn't the case with us coming to town, and them coming off two big road wins. That should be fun."