Boise, ID (SportsNetwork.com) - Undefeated in Mountain West Conference play, the fifth-ranked San Diego State Aztecs try to keep the good times rolling tonight as they clash with the Boise State Broncos at Taco Bell Arena.
The Aztecs are in the midst of one of the greatest seasons in program history, as they shoot for their ninth straight 20-win campaign. The squad split the first two games of 2013-14, bowing to an Arizona squad that was the top-ranked team in the nation as recently as last week. Since then, SDSU has ripped off 18 straight victories, the second-longest streak in school history, and is setting a new standard in terms of starting a conference schedule undefeated as well.
Over the weekend, the Aztecs went up against Colorado State at home and came away with a 65-56 win after the Rams benched one of their top scorers after only three minutes of action. Not only did the outcome get San Diego State one step closer to 20 wins on the season, it was also the 300th for head coach Steve Fisher at the school as well.
Meanwhile, the Broncos are a team that opened the season with eight wins in as many games, but many of those came against questionable competition. Boise State has split the last 14 games, the most recent contest taking place over the weekend at UNLV and ending in a 73-69 loss to snap a two-game win streak. Like every other program in the MWC, the Broncos are chasing San Diego State in the standings with a record of 5-4.
The Aztecs have won all but one of the previous eight encounters with Boise State, and that includes a narrow 69-66 final in the first meeting of the season back in January at Viejas Arena. The one win for the Broncos came last season in this building by a score of 69-65 in the regular-season finale.
San Diego State gave up the first field goal of the game to Colorado State, but from there the hosts ripped off a 25-6 scoring run and remained out in front the rest of the way. Xavier Thames led the way for the Aztecs with 24 points, shooting a perfect 12-of-12 at the free-throw line and a not-so- impressive 6-of-17 from the floor, while clearing seven rebounds. Winston Shepard added 17 points and six boards, while J.J. O'Brien contributed 10 boards, but just a single point in 30 minutes of work.
A candidate for a series of postseason accolades, Thames directs the San Diego State offense as well as anyone, producing a team-best 53 assists and 36 steals while also pacing the group with 18.0 ppg. Shepard chips in another 13.1 ppg and Josh Davis, who missed the last game due to injury, accounts for 11.6 rpg as the team beats opponents on the glass by 5.9 rpg. But more than anything else, it is the SDSU defense that is bringing home the victories as the group limits foes to a paltry 56.1 ppg.
Boise State led by as many as 12 points in the first half and was up by double figures at the break versus the Runnin' Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center, but it wasn't enough to keep the Broncos out of the loss column. Nevertheless, Derrick Marks stepped up with 22 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the floor, followed by Thomas Bropleh with 13 points off the bench. Coming away with a double-double was Ryan Watkins who dropped in 11 points and pulled down 12 rebounds, seven of those at the offensive end of the floor.
On the season overall, BSU is averaging 78.0 ppg and outscoring the competition by close to 10 per contest, but when it comes to conference matchups the margin for error is greatly reduced. Granted, Watkins has been a beast for the most part in these nine conference outings, averaging 13.9 points and a massive 14.0 rebounds per game, but still the program is outscoring MWC foes by an average of only 3.7 ppg. Marks (15.1 ppg) and Anthony Drmic (13.6 ppg) remain huge factors on offense for the group.