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Wolf Pack facing tough road tests

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If the Utah State Aggies fans at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum Wednesday night in Logan, Utah think they will intimidate the Nevada Wolf Pack, well, they better think again.

“Their fans are very well organized,” Wolf Pack senior Jerry Evans said. “Their crowd is amazing. It’s a very good atmosphere. I like it.”

“I love playing on the road,” senior point guard Deonte Burton added. “I love hostile environments. It makes me play a little better.”

The Wolf Pack, which will also play at No. 5 San Diego State on Saturday to conclude a two-game road trip this week, won the last time it played in Logan. The Pack beat the Aggies 78-71 on Jan. 7, 2012 as Burton scored 25 points. The victory, though, was just the third for the Pack in 19 games at Utah State since the rivalry began in 1936.

“That was a big win for us,” said Evans, who had five points in the victory two years ago. “To go back there and win was a big accomplishment for us. It was just payback.”

It will be the Aggies with payback on their minds on Wednesday night as they try to even the score with the Wolf Pack this year The Pack beat the Aggies 62-54 on Jan. 11 at Lawlor Events Center as Cole Huff drained four 3-pointers on his way to 16 points. Utah State also missed 14 of its 16 3-point attempts in the game and has now lost three games in a row to its northern Nevada rival.

“We know they will be looking at this game as a chance to get a home win,” said Pack coach David Carter, who lost his first four games against Utah State as the Pack head coach before winning the last three. “They are a very dangerous team. We will have to match their intensity.”

Utah State might be dangerous but it is also the team with the longest current losing streak in the Mountain West at five games. The Aggies, in their first year in the Mountain West, haven’t lost five in a row since they lost six in a row in 1993.

The Wolf Pack, which is 12-10 overall and 7-2 in the Mountain West, just might be facing a desperate Utah State team on Wednesday. The Aggies are 12-9 overall but just 2-7 in the Mountain West and have lost seven of their last nine games. But, as Carter said, the Aggies are still a dangerous team, especially at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum where they are 10-3 this year. Then again, this is the same program that won 33 in a row and 68-of-69 at home from 2007-2011. But that was in the Western Athletic Conference.

"In the WAC they were a unique place to play," Carter said. "It was the toughest place to play in the WAC. But it's a little different now. Now they are just one of five or six places where it can be real loud in the Mountain West."

A big part of the Aggies' home success is their rabid and devoted fan base. The Aggies are averaging 9,778 fans at their 10,270-seat arena this year. They have sold the place out five times against Nevada since 2006.

“We have to try to keep the crowd out of it,” Carter said.

That was the case two years ago as the Pack jumped out to a 15-6 lead and never trailed in winning in Logan.

“They are just loud,” said Burton, who still leads the Mountain West in scoring this year at 21.0 points a game despite scoring just 10 points in a 69-56 overtime win against Air Force last Saturday. “You literally can’t hear the person standing next to you.”

The Aggies, as usual, seem to live and die on their 3-point shooting. They lead the Mountain West with a .415 success rate from beyond the arc despite what happened at Lawlor last month. The threes will mainly come from 6-foot-3 guard Spencer Butterfield (13.2 points), 6-4 guard Preston Medlin (13.0) and reserves Jalen Moore (6.7 point) and TeNale Roland (4.8 points). Jarred Shaw, a 6-10 senior who had 19 points at Lawlor last month, is the Aggies presence inside with 9.4 points and 8.2 rebounds a game.

“I really believe that if you are going to challenge for a championship who have to win on the road,” Carter said.

So far so good. The Pack has actually played better on the road this year with a 6-3 record on an opponent's home floor against a 6-5 record at home (they are also 0-2 on a neutral court). This week’s road trip, though, might be the toughest of the Mountain West season for the Pack. San Diego State, after all, is riding an 18-game winning streak and is 19-1. The Aggies are led by guard Xavier Thames (18.0 points, 1.5 steals), a Sacramento native and former AAU teammate of Burton’s.

“Both are hostile environments,” Evans said of Utah State and San Diego State. “We know it’s not going to be easy.”

The Wolf Pack lost its two games against San Diego State last year and has lost seven of 10 games in the rivalry. Saturday’s contest will be the only game between the two teams in the regular season this year.

“We want to see if we can play with the top teams in the league,” Carter said.

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