San Diego, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - Back in the national rankings, the San Diego State Aztecs saddle up against the Boise State Broncos in a crucial Mountain West Conference battle at Viejas Arena on Saturday.
Now the 24th-ranked program in the nation, the Aztecs were ranked earlier in the campaign before losing a 71-62 overtime affair versus Cincinnati in the middle of December. Alone at the top of the MWC standings with a record of 12-3, San Diego State is enjoying a four-game win streak thanks to a 74-56 rout of San Jose State on the road last weekend.
Winners of the MWC regular-season title four times and the MWC Tournament also on four occasions, the Aztecs could clinch a share of their fourth regular- season title in the last five seasons with a victory this weekend and being at Viejas gives the squad a huge edge because they are riding a 29-game home win streak, a school record.
As for the Broncos, they are in second place in the MWC with a record of 11-4, and are one of the hottest programs in the league thanks to three straight wins and victories in all but one of the last 12 games on the calendar. Four nights ago, the team dismissed visiting New Mexico by a score of 76-65, completing the season sweep of the Lobos in the process.
The Aztecs have revenge as a motivator in this meeting after losing to Boise State in the first encounter earlier this month at Taco Bell Arena, 61-46. It was one of the weakest offensive efforts by SDSU on the campaign, but still the Aztecs own an 8-2 advantage in the all-time series.
Derrick Marks, who many believe has the inside track to the MWC Player of the Year Award, erupted for a game-high 30 points against visiting New Mexico, shooting 12-of-20 from the floor while adding five rebounds and five assists. Also having a huge game on Tuesday was Nick Duncan who knocked down a career- best 8-of-13 behind the 3-point line as he finished with 26 points for a BSU group that connected on 15-of-34 shots beyond the arc. From inside the 3-point line, BSU was 11-of-21.
Marks has been a scoring machine in league play, averaging 22.6 ppg as he shoots both 52.1 percent from the floor and 42.7 percent beyond the arc. A premier scoring threat, Marks is also second on the unit with 43 assists and tops with 31 steals, putting out his best effort every time he takes the floor, no matter which end he is focused on. Although he missed all but one of his six field goal tries versus New Mexico, James Webb III still made a major impression for the Broncos as he cleared a game-high 11 rebounds and is now averaging 8.9 rpg in conference play, to go along with 12.5 ppg.
Against an opponent that dressed only eight players, the Aztecs had to withstand a perimeter attack from San Jose State during the first half last weekend in order to pull away and grab the eventual lopsided win on the road. Winston Shepard played just 24 minutes for the visitors, but still ended up with 20 points and six rebounds, followed by JJ O'Brien with 15 points and another six boards, as well as four steals. Off the bench it was Trey Kell with 12 points for a group that survived just 15-of-28 shooting at the free- throw line by hitting on 59.6 percent from the floor overall.
The Aztecs may not have a household name on the roster these days, but with aggressive play at both ends of the floor by players who have bought into the plan set by head coach Steve Fisher there's no telling how far this nondescript group can go in March and possibly April. Shepard is second on the team in scoring with 11.0 ppg versus MWC foes, while O'Brien checks in with another 10.1 ppg and a team-best 42 assists. But at the top of the scoring list is Aqeel Quinn with 12.7 ppg, thanks to his 24 triples on 65 attempts for a group that is hitting perimeter shots at a 35.1 percent clip.