San Diego St.-Boise St. Preview
SAN DIEGO (AP)
With their next victory, the No. 5 San Diego State Aztecs will have their ninth straight 20-win season - and 10th overall - under coach Steve Fisher.
By comparison, the Aztecs had nine 20-win seasons total in the 78 seasons before Fisher arrived.
The Aztecs (19-1, 8-0 Mountain West Conference) expect to win a lot more than 20, of course, and could even crack 30 for just the second time in school history.
Their first shot at 20 comes Wednesday night at Boise State. It won't be easy, considering that the Broncos (15-7, 5-4) beat the Aztecs at home last year and have lost by 2, 1 and 3 points in their three visits to San Diego since joining the Mountain West.
While Fisher said 20-win seasons might not be quite the magic number they used to be, he and the Aztecs will certainly take them, considering how moribund the program was before he took over in 1999-2000.
''I think what it does is it validates the fact that we have a program,'' Fisher said Tuesday. ''It validates the fact that we continue to get good players. It doesn't matter whether you have them all returning or none returning. This is a group of guys that are prepared to play and they are capable of playing in the league that we're in and the schedule that we have, and that attracts the next group of players.''
If the Aztecs stumble in Boise, their next shot at No. 20 would be Saturday night against Nevada in front of their raucous home crowd at Viejas Arena.
''When you win, everybody wants to take a look at you and when you win in the environment we're winning in, very few can say, `We're winning all these games, but also come and look at what we have as a crowd that are here for you,''' Fisher said. ''I look at games all over the country and I see teams that have got really good programs playing huge games and you see the building three-quarters filled, sometimes not that much. So it's neat to see, obviously winning helps create that. So we're hoping we can get 20 and then move on beyond that, for sure.''
Fisher hopes Josh Davis, SDSU's leading rebounder with 11.6 per game, can play against Boise State after a bruised knee kept him out of Saturday's 65-56 home victory against Colorado State.
That was Fisher's 300th victory at SDSU, giving him a record of 300-172 with the Aztecs and 484-254 for his coaching career.
The Aztecs have won 18 straight games since their only loss, a 69-60 home defeat to Arizona on Nov. 14.
Senior guard Xavier Thames has carried the Aztecs offensively. He leads the team with 18.0 points per game, 43.3 percent 3-point shooting and 82.7 percent shooting from the free throw line (110 of 133).
Thames is playing ''at such a high level that he makes everybody else better, because he will be No. 1 on every opponent's white board: `Do this to stop him,''' Fisher said. ''So you've got three sets of eyes on X and it helps somebody else get open for a clean look. But we've got good play and important play from a lot of different people, both on offense and on defense.''
The Aztecs are one of the nation's best defensive teams, ranking third in points allowed (56.1) and first in defensive field goal percentage (36.2 percent) and 3-point percentage (26.6).
SDSU has struggled on offense to the point that Fisher said he heard someone on talk radio say that it has an NCAA defense but an NIT offense.
Fisher counters that by pointing out that the Aztecs have made more free throws - 371 - than their opponents have taken - 334.
''Obviously we want to shoot better from the line, but we're getting there a lot, and as long as we get Xavier there often enough, I think the percentage will be OK,'' said Fisher, whose Aztecs are shooting an MWC-low 65.1 percent from the line. ''And that's a big, big piece to what we do - find ways to get to the free throw line.''
SDSU's success has surprised most outsiders, mostly because the Aztecs lost Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley from the team that reached the NCAA tournament for the school-record fourth straight season.
The Aztecs themselves aren't surprised.
''We knew coming in that we were going to have a great team,'' Thames said. ''We've just been working hard since basically spring time. All the guys stay here over the summer and we've been working hard.''
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