A familiar foe will take the court this evening when the Utah State men’s basketball team begins a new season.

The Aggies welcome Idaho State to the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum to tip off the 2012-13 campaign. Game time is set for 7 o’clock.

“It is to the point where we need to play counters and see where we are at,” USU head coach Stew Morrill said. “That’s what it’s all about, trying to win games. To keep banging on each other, it’s time to play a game.

“Once they start coming, they come pretty fast and furious.”

After playing tonight, the Aggies play twice next week. The first four games are at the Spectrum. Not since the 1996-97 season have the Aggies began a season with four straight at home. Eight of the first 11 games on the USU schedule are in the Spectrum.

The Aggie coach said this past week of practice has gone better than the previous. Following an exhibition game last Saturday, Morrill stressed the importance of coming to practice every day with the attitude of working hard and getting better.

“They got the message,” Morrill said after practice on Thursday. “I’m never totally satisfied. I want perfect practices every day just like I want to play a perfect game. Those things don’t exist.”

Progress is being made with all the teaching going on. USU has seven newcomers and two players that sat out last season.

“I will be really surprised if our guys are not excited and hopefully our fans will be, too,” Morrill said about the opener tonight. “In the past few years we’ve sold 6,000 season tickets and allowed 4,000 for the students. That’s pretty close to full. ... That is so special, and we are so appreciative of that. We’re hopeful that continues this year and that we are worthy of it. I hope our fans are ready, too, because that is really important to this program.”

Both teams come into this contest having won a pair of exhibition contests. The Aggies rolled to wins over two Division II schools in Grand Canyon (76-44) and Simon Fraser (92-56). The Bengals beat Montana Tech (71-41) and edged Whitworth University (68-65).

“They are going to come in here feeling like they have a new lease on life with some new players and a new coach,” Morrill said of the Bengals. “They are going to come in here loaded for bear and ready to play.”

Idaho State has two players that averaged 20 points in the exhibition games in guard Melvin Morgan and forward Chris Hansen. Morrill made sure his players are aware of those two.

While Morrill enters his 15th season at the USU helm, the Bengals are under a new head coach. After spending the last four years as an assistant at Montana, Bill Evans is the new ISU head coach. Evans spent 1992-2007 as the head coach at Southern Utah, becoming the school’s winningest coach with 209 victories.

“They have lots of new guys and a new coach,” Morrill said. “One thing I know about Bill Evans is he is a good man and a very good basketball coach. I know him personally and think the world of him. He’s a veteran.

“... He’s going to make a difference at Idaho State. They are not going to be like they’ve been. You can already tell by watching them on tape. They are playing harder and playing better defense. They are executing better.”

The Bengals return two starters and six letterwinners from a year ago. Idaho State went 9-21 last season and is picked to finish ninth in the 11-team Big Sky Conference.

Meanwhile, the Aggies are the preseason pick to win the Western Athletic Conference by most publications. The league coaches tabbed USU to take second.

Three starters and five letterwinners return from a team that went 21-16 and reached the CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship. WAC Preseason Player of the Year Preston Medlin and all-league forward Kyisean Reed headline the Aggies. Forward Danny Berger is the other returning starter.

Transfer Jarred Shaw will get the nod at center and junior college point guard TeNale Roland will round out the starting five.

“I know everybody likes to know who the starters are going to be, but I’m much more into who finishes and who plays well,” Morrill said. “What has been really good is our twos, as (USU head football coach) Gary Andersen likes to call them, our second group, has been beating our first group some days. We’ve had some very competitive sessions. That makes it good.”

Following the last exhibition game, where all 11 Aggies played and 10 scored, Morrill pointed out the depth of this team. He had similar thoughts on this past week.

“I challenged our ones the other day, telling them the second group was a lot more physical,” Morrill said. “I don’t think they liked that very much, but I’m not sure that’s not true.”

The coach did say Reed has been playing a “lot more physical.”

USU has won 13 in a row in the series with ISU, which will tie for the 16th oldest in school history after tonight’s game at 49 meetings. Morrill is 10-0 at the Aggie helm when facing the Bengals. The last time ISU beat USU was in 1981 in Logan.

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sharrsion@hjnews.com

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