RENO - Nobody has to remind the Nevada Wolf Pack what it would mean to beat the Utah State Aggies.
"It would show how far we've come as a team," said junior center Dario Hunt of the Wolf Pack's game in Logan, Utah, tonight (8:05 p.m., ESPN2) against the No. 21-ranked Western Athletic Conference leaders.
"It would definitely be the biggest win for us this season," freshman point guard Deonte Burton said.
The Aggies simply do not lose a WAC game at home very often. Actually, the Aggies don't lose often anywhere. Utah State, now 20-2 overall (12-0 at home) and 9-0 in the WAC, has won 15 games in a row overall and 26 in a row at home. They have won a WAC-record 23 WAC games home and away in a row (41 of the last 45) and 78 of their last 80 home games overall.
"We can go in there and play hard, play very well and still lose the game," said Pack coach David Carter, whose team has a 1-10 record away from home. "They are that good."
The Wolf Pack (8-13, 5-3) lost 76-65 last Feb. 9 at Utah State and have lost 15 of 17 games in Logan in the all-time series dating back to 1935-36. The only Pack teams to win at Utah State were in 1992-93 (97-87) and 2005-06 (75-57) and most of the games haven't even been close. The Pack's 15 losses in Logan have been by an average of 14.5 points.
"We just have to go in there and just make all the simple plays and not try to hit a home run and take it one possession at a time," Burton said.
The Wolf Pack will be stepping into an atmosphere in Logan that they haven't seen very often. The Aggies average 8,157 fans a game at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, where they have a 480-106 record (.819) in 40 seasons.
"It's one of the best home court advantages in college basketball," Carter said. "We went to Kansas (in November 2004 and December 2005) when I was an assistant and that place ranks right up there with Kansas as one of the toughest places to play for a visiting team."
Carter said the Pack has played in just one arena this year that even remotely resembles what they'll face at Utah State.
"We played at Washington (in front of 10,000 fans) so we've gotten a taste of what that is like," said Carter of the Pack's 90-60 loss on Dec. 22. "Our eyes got a little big that night."
The Pack, which has played just one game (a 79-76 win last Thursday at home against Fresno State) in the last 10 days, has just two players on its current roster (Hunt and Marko Cukic) that have played a game in Logan. Hunt has played in two games in Logan with seven points, 12 rebounds and seven fouls in 47 combined minutes. Cukic played there last year (in front of 10,270 fans) and didn't have a point or rebound in seven minutes.
"I really haven't seen it," said Burton, who was playing high school basketball in southern California this time a year ago. "But I've heard about it from my coaches and from Dario. The place is crazy."
"It's one of the greatest atmospheres I've been in since I've been here," said Hunt, who has also played at North Carolina in his Pack career. "It can be loud and the crowd gets pumped up. We just have to keep our composure."
Carter said he has played loud music during Wolf Pack practices this week to prepare his young team for what they will face in Logan.
"And it's not music they like," smiled Carter.
"You just can't let the crowd get to you," said junior Olek Czyz, who played in large and loud arenas as a member of the Duke Blue Devils the past two seasons. "You just tune it out and play basketball. If you do what you do in practice you'll be fine."
Carter said it is not the noise, necessarily, that bothers visiting teams in Logan. It's the confidence with which the Aggies play at home.
"I've been here 11 years and we had that type of confidence, too, at home," Carter said. "You just feel like you can't lose at home. No matter what the score is, no matter how much time is left, they just feel like they can't lose. I've told our guys, they are probably 10 points better at home than they are on the road."
That would mean that the Wolf Pack would be a 24-point underdog on Wednesday since the Aggies beat the Pack 81-67 in Reno on Jan. 8.
"They don't beat themselves," Carter said. "So when you play them, you can't beat yourself. And we feel that's what we did the last time we played them."
The Wolf Pack led the Aggies 49-39 with 14:11 to play on Jan. 8. They also trailed by just 71-67 with 3:09 to go. The Pack, though, did not score the rest of the game and missed its final seven shots.
"We know we can beat them," Hunt said. "We played them extremely tough here."
"We definitely need to close out the game better," Czyz said. "The experience they have, their seniors, is what separates them from the rest of the league."
The Aggies, whose two losses this year are to BYU and Georgetown, are led by 6-foot-7 senior center Tai Wesley (14.3 points, 7.8 rebounds). Brady Jardine (a junior) averages 7.9 rebounds and Brian Green (senior) chips in with 11.8 points a game.
The Aggies take good shots (their field goal percentage of .469 leads the WAC) and play good defense (they allow a WAC-low 59.2 points a game). They also have three talented 3-point shooters in Green (a WAC-best 47% from beyond the arc), senior Pooh Williams (.392) and senior Tyler Newbold (.360).
Junior college transfer Brockieth Pane also has given the Aggies an element of speed this year.
Pane, who averages 10.9 points and 3.0 assists in just 27.6 minutes a game, scored 17 points against the Pack on Jan. 8 mostly on fast-break layups (6-of-7 inside the 3-point arc) one back-breaking three-pointer that gave the Aggies a 77-67 lead with 1:46 to go.
"He's very dangerous in transition," Carter said. "When he gets going its hard to stop him."
The Aggies, who also feature 6-9 senior Nate Bendall (5.6 points, 5.3 rebounds game), lead the WAC with a plus 12.9 scoring margin this year while the Pack is last in the WAC at minus 1.6. The Pack, though, is plus 8.0 over its last four games, all victories.
"We have more confidence this time than the last time we played them," said Carter, referring to his team's four-game winning streak. "The last time we kind of went into that game licking our wounds a little bit. (after an 80-74 loss at Fresno five days earlier). We have more confidence and momentum this time."