San Diego St.-Boise St. Preview

San Diego State is in position to win the Mountain West title
after losing four starters from the best team in school history,
but its next contest could be more difficult than it appears.

The No. 21 Aztecs play their final two games on the road,
starting with Wednesday night’s first-ever trip to face last-place
Boise State.

Not much was expected from San Diego State (22-6, 8-4), which
lost its top four scorers including first-round pick Kawhi Leonard
from a team that went 34-3 a season ago. The new-look Aztecs,
however, are in a three-way tie for first with No. 17 UNLV and New
Mexico.

“I don’t know that we ever really said, ‘OK here is the goal. We
are going to win the conference,'” coach Steve Fisher said. “But we
wanted to make sure that everyone in that locker room knew that we
had players good enough to win.”

Boise State (13-14, 3-9) has had a rough introduction to the
Mountain West after moving from the Western Athletic Conference.
The Broncos are tied for last with Air Force.

This matchup, though, could be a close one based on San Diego
State’s 58-56 home win over Boise State on Feb. 1. The Broncos led
by as many as 12 points and forward Thomas Bropleh’s wide-open
3-pointer rimmed out at the buzzer.

“We could have lost to Boise State if they would have made that
last shot,” Aztecs guard Jamaal Franklin said.

The Broncos fell despite allowing the Aztecs to match a season
low with 31.3 percent shooting.

“Of course, we replayed it and we replayed it,” coach Leon Rice
said. “It’s a tough one to handle but hey, that’s basketball.
Sometimes you make those.”

Franklin matched a season low in MWC play with three baskets in
that victory for 16 points. He’s averaging 19.6 in the five games
since, with 31 points and 16 rebounds in Saturday’s 74-66 home win
over Colorado State.

“I got into foul trouble very early (in the last meeting)
because they were taking charges,” Franklin said. “We have to make
sure that we stay under control, beat them on the boards and defend
the 3. They are a great shooting team and like to spread the floor
out, just like we do.”

Rice, who started three freshmen among his four-guard lineup in
a 64-54 loss at Wyoming on Saturday, lauded the “winning culture”
at San Diego State under Fisher. The Aztecs made 25 of 29 free
throws in the first meeting compared to 7 of 16 for the
Broncos.

“They know how to win games,” Rice said. “Like against us a
perfect example of that is that they made 14 in a row at the
free-throw line in that crunch time of the game. That’s what
winning teams do.”

The Broncos are 11-4 at home, where they expect an intense
atmosphere in their finale at Taco Bell Arena.

“We understand that they’re going to come in playing for a lot,”
Rice said. “So we’ve got to be playing for a lot. And it’s our last
home game, it’s senior night. So there’s going to be a lot of
energy and emotion on both sides.”