The date was Nov. 11, 2011. The first game of the season had just ended, and it couldn’t be better for the Aggies. Led by the performance of then-senior Brockeith Payne with 21 points, Utah State began the season 1-0 by beating Brigham Young in a defensive slugfest, 69-62. The Cougars had just lost point guard wonder Jimmer Fredette to the NBA and the Aggies took the chance to kick them while they were down.
That was the last time the Aggies got the win over BYU in a storied basketball rivalry. This Saturday, they have their best chance in years to do it again.
The very stage in which this game is set bears resemblance to that November game in 2011.
Back then, Fredette, who was essentially “the offense” for a nationally-ranked BYU team has just left the program, and the Cougars had to find a whole new identity. Now, BYU finds itself dazed after the loss of its top two players, Erik Mika, who made a premature departure for the big leagues, and Nick Emery, who withdrew from the program just before the season began.
Utah State senior Alex Dargenton, one of two seniors on USU’s roster this season, was still a senior at the time of that last rivalry victory for the Aggies, but in high school. In fact, only Head Coach Tim Duryea and assistant coach Tarvish Felton were in the program during that game.
Landon Hemsley of the Deseret News authored an article on Feb. 12, 2013 that called the USU-BYU rivalry “the definition of rivalry during the last 15 years”, but when the Aggies left the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) to join the more competitive Mountain West Conference, and legendary head coach Stew Morrill retired from USU, the losses began stringing up, particularly against the Cougs. A series once tied 7-7 over a fourteen year span succumbed to a run of dominance by the “other boys in blue.”
As the Aggies prepare to host BYU this Saturday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, arguably the best opportunity in more than five years for Utah State to rain the “Winning Team, Losing Team” chant on the Cougars presents itself to a Sam Merrill-led USU squad. Merrill currently leads the Aggies in scoring with 15.5 points per game in the absence of star sophomore Koby McEwen. As a team, the Aggies are not in the best shape with a 4-4 record, averaging slightly more turnovers than assists and shooting a horrid 65 percent from the free throw line, but have the benefit of getting an efficient scoring day out of anybody at any time.
Despite being gutted in the offseason, BYU hasn’t keeled over in the early stages of the season, still sporting a decent 5-2 record on the back of forward Yoeli Childs, who is averaging 16.6 points per game. BYU also enters this weekend’s matchup with an injection of confidence against foes inside the border. Their last game was an 85-58 demolition of Utah Valley University.
As of Friday morning, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives Utah State a winning percentage chance of 59.2 percent to BYU’s 40.8 percent. In the historic fistfight between two proud basketball programs, BYU looks to be exposing its chin.
Saturday night will tell everyone if the Aggies can deliver the blow.