Aggies and Aztecs mix it up in Mountain West melee
San Diego, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The top team in the Mountain West Conference settles in at Viejas Arena tonight, as the sixth-ranked San Diego State Aztecs play host to the Utah State Aggies.
Entering last week, the Aztecs were one of the hottest teams in the nation, enjoying a 20-game win streak since falling to Arizona (69-60) at home back on Nov. 14, but the streak came to an end last Tuesday night at Wyoming as the Cowboys pulled out a 68-62 win at Arena Auditorium. The defeat, the first in nearly three full months, was also the first in conference play for SDSU and left the door open for New Mexico to jump into a tie for a first place in the standings, but the Lobos couldn't pull it off.
Over the weekend, SDSU moved back into the win column with a solid 64-56 decision against visiting Air Force, making the team 11-1 in league play.
While San Diego State has been cruising through the 2013-14 regular season, the Aggies haven't been quite as consistent. Although, the team did celebrate a three-game win streak recently with triumphs over Nevada, Boise State and Colorado State, but that was before coming up short in a 73-62 decision versus UNLV over the weekend at home.
Utah State, which is 4-5 this season following a loss, is three games under .500 (5-8) in conference and that has the squad tied with CSU for eighth place in the standings entering the week.
These two teams met in Logan last month, with the hosts taking SDSU to overtime before bowing by a score of 74-69, giving the Aztecs their first win in four tries in the all-time series. This is the first matchup to be played in San Diego since 1998.
USU is just 16-95 (.144) against teams ranked in the AP Top-25 all-time, but at least the program has had better results recently in such games under head coach Stew Morrill (5-17, .227).
In a game that featured eight ties and as many lead changes, the Aggies picked the wrong time to be on the short end of the score versus UNLV at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Saturday. Jarred Shaw scored 20 points and pulled down 12 rebounds, both team highs, while TeNale Roland and Spencer Butterfield chimed in with 12 and 11 points, respectively, as the team shot just 33.8 percent from the floor. Having an awful outing was Preston Medlin, as he connected on just 2-of-14 from the floor and finished with six points.
During conference games, the Aggies have managed to hold opponents to 69.1 ppg, but at the same time the USU offense is producing a mere 66.8 ppg. Butterfield finds himself atop the scoring list with his 12.9 ppg, his total points scored more than that of Shaw (13.8 ppg) who missed one game during a suspension. Medlin (12.6 ppg), who had five assists against the Runnin' Rebels, accounts for just about 5.0 apg in league play as well, compared to less than two turnovers per outing.
The Aztecs should have expected a defensive clash with Air Force, but surely the team's mere 34.8 percent shooting from the floor in the first half was the exception and not the rule. After the break SDSU made good on 50 percent from the field in order to take the eight-point decision. Winston Shepard led the offense with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Xavier Thames and Dwayne Polee II both deposited 13 points. Josh Davis tallied only seven points, but did clear 10 rebounds to lead in that category.
Speaking specifically about the 13 games played at home this season, the Aztecs are putting a defensive effort on the floor that is rivaled by few others. The group has held those opponents to a feeble 33.3 percent shooting from the floor and a dismal 21.8 percent (52-of-238) behind the 3-point line, all leading to a mere 51.7 ppg. Thanks to Thames (15.8 ppg) and Shepard (14.5 ppg), the SDSU offense is churning out 73.9 ppg at home, although it should be noted that a massive 118-35 win over St. Katherine College in late December has helped to boost the numbers on both sides.