LOGAN — At the halfway point of the conference season, Utah State's basketball team finds itself in an unfamiliar position.
Under coach Stew Morrill, the Aggies have won seven regular-season conference titles in 13 years, but this winter, they find themselves in a tie for 10th place at the midway point of Mountain West play.
USU will get a chance to turn things around in Logan this week, with home games against Nevada on Wednesday night and Boise State on Saturday afternoon.
Utah State football coach Matt Wells and the Aggie football team made moving up to the Mountain West look easy on the gridiron, but it's been a whole different story on the basketball court for schools moving from the WAC. Nobody knows this better than the Aggies' opponents this week, Nevada and Boise State.
Boise State made it to the WAC championship game in its final year, but then could only muster a 3-11 record in its inaugural MWC campaign.
Meanwhile, the Wolf Pack made the transition last season and, after years of dominance in the WAC, finished just 3-13 in the Mountain West.
While both schools struggled in year one, they rebounded in year two. Boise State earned an at-large NCAA tournament bid and finished 9-7 in the Mountain West last year. Nevada has been the surprise of the Mountain West this season and currently sits in third place in the league.
“We have Nevada coming in at 7-2 in league play,” Morrill said. “It seems like every game out we’ve got somebody who’s playing well or has a lot of wins.”
Better days are almost certainly ahead for USU, but Morrill and the Aggies hope they are coming sooner than year two — like they did for Nevada and Boise State. The key to snapping USU's five-game losing streak is upping the players' confidence level, according to Morrill.
“They have to get their own confidence back. I can tell them the things I believe about guys being good players and remind them of the good games they’ve had, but I don’t have a big syringe that I can inject confidence,” Morrill said. “The best way they can do it is to go win a game. You need a little confidence to get that done, but if we can, that will help everybody. Nothing like winning to cure some things.”
The Aggies have been victim of a couple of blowout losses during their losing streak, but despite the struggles, Morrill thinks they are close to breaking through.
“The only way we have a chance to win in this league is to go out and compete and play a little better than we’ve been playing,” Morrill said. “It’s not like we have to completely revamp the whole deal. We’re — at times — very close to having success. We have to do a little better. That’s the emphasis in practice. We had a good workout yesterday after talking about some things.”
Utah State finishes the season with five of its remaining nine games at home, including three of the next four in the Spectrum.
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.
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