COLUMBUS, Ohio — Like so many who are unaccustomed with the NCAA tournament, the Huskies are in awe of the grandest spectacle in college basketball while trying to remind themselves that it’s simply a game.

It’s a tricky balancing act for No. 9 seed Washington, which like their first-round opponent No. 8 Utah State, makes its first Big Dance appearance since 2011.

“It’s so easy to get wrapped up and blown away by this tournament because it’s different than anything that you’ve ever been apart of,” UW senior guard David Crisp said. “From the little things to the big things. Everything is just more.”

The lobby of the Westin Great Southern Columbus is decked out in UW purple and gold. The “Do Not Disturb” door tags have been replaced with “Dream of Cutting Down the Nets.”

“This whole experience is a blessing,” Crisp said. “I can’t wait until game time. I just can’t wait to play. … When we get on that court, it’s going to be a feeling I’ve been wanting to feel since I’ve been a kid and since I’ve been in college.

“I’m looking forward to seeing that NCAA sticker on the jersey. I know it’s going to be beautiful.”

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Still, the Huskies believe they can’t focus too long on anything other than Utah State, or else it’s going to be a short trip to Columbus, Ohio.

<strong>When:</strong> Friday, 3:50 p.m. <br> <strong>Where:</strong> Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH <br> <strong>TV:</strong> TNT

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Follow along with us as UW faces Utah State in Round of 64 »

Friday’s winner most likely will face North Carolina, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, on Sunday.

“We’ve been pretty good all season at locking in, especially after a loss,” UW senior guard Matisse Thybulle said, referencing a 68-48 defeat to Oregon in Saturday’s Pac-12 Tournament finals. “As much as the Oregon hurt that’s going to be a huge motivator for us.

“To have that taste still in our mouths leading to this is going to be enough to not let us get too excited about just being here. We want to win again. We’re not going to let our season end the way it did over there in Vegas.”

Crisp added: “Knowing that it’s single elimination makes it all that much more real. Everything counts so everything is that magnified that much more.”

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Thursday’s practice at Nationwide Arena was energetic and cheerful as the Huskies zipped through a 40-minute workout in front of the fans.

Later Thursday, they held a brief private practice at Ohio State’s Value City Arena.

“That’s when we’ll really lock in on (Utah State) and get the scout,” UW senior forward Noah Dickerson said. “But I can tell you from what I’ve learned is they’re a good team. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t.”

Dickerson spent part of the public portion working with 7-foot-4 freshman center Riley Sorn to get ready for his much-anticipated matchup with 6-11 Utah State freshman phenom Neemias Queta.

#9 UW vs. #8 Utah State: Keys to the game

The Aggies’ big man, who ranks 14th nationally with 2.4 blocks per game, averages 11.9 points and 8.9 rebounds.

“He’s a load down there and somebody that we’re going to have to know where he’s at all times,” said Jaylen Nowell, the Pac-12 player of the year who leads UW with a 16.2 scoring average. “Certainly, he’s going to create some problems. But we can’t be timid. We have to go at him and see what we can do inside.”

The Aggies made similar comments about Thybulle, who leads the nation with 3.4 steals per game.

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“He’s going to make some plays,” Utah State’s Sam Merrill said. “That’s what this tournament is about. The best players make plays. But hopefully we can minimize what he does by moving the ball and not by letting the ball stick. And by doing the things we’ve done all season.”

Utah State is a three-point favorite that’s won 17 of its past 18 games, but the Mountain West regular-season champions feel as if they’re playing with house money considering they were picked to finish ninth in the conference preseason poll.

The Aggies believe they’ve hit their stride at the perfect time. They’re riding a 10-game winning streak and breezed through last week’s Mountain West tournament en route to the title.

“We’re playing good basketball,” Queta said. “People are finding out about us now.”

Friday’s game is a chance for Washington and Utah State to return to national prominence after long NCAA tournament droughts.

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The Aggies went to three straight tournaments from 2009-2011, but their last tournament victory was in 2001.

“For those who have been following college basketball for a long time, Utah State used to be a regular in this tournament,” Merrill said. “We’re excited to be back.”

Washington’s last NCAA tournament win was in 2011 when the Huskies beat Georgia 68-65 in its opener before falling to North Carolina in the second round.

No one inside UW’s cramped locker room at Nationwide Arena was thinking about a possible rematch with the Tar Heels.

“Nah, not all,” senior guard Dominic Green laughing. “I can pretty much speak for everybody in here when I tell you that hasn’t come up at all. … It’s all Utah State. But mostly, it’s us and focusing on what we need to do.”