San Diego St.-Kansas Preview
The No. 21 Aztecs believe they're just as good as the 16th-ranked Jayhawks.
"At the end of the day, none of that stuff matters," SDSU forward Winston Shepard said. "(Everything) gets settled on the court. They've got to match up with us just like we have to match up with them."
How about Kansas winning 34 of its last 35 at home?
"They won't be in awe or fearful," coach Steve Fisher said of his Aztecs. "They'll be really, really excited to go and play."
San Diego State (11-1) already has been tested plenty this season and its only loss came at home Nov. 14 to then-No. 6 Arizona, which since has ascended to the top spot in the rankings.
The Aztecs beat then-No. 20 Creighton on Nov. 29 and then-No. 25 Marquette on Dec. 1 to win the Wooden Legacy tournament in Anaheim, Calif., and this meeting with Kansas (9-3) should prepare them for future marquee matchups.
"It's going to feel like an NCAA tournament game," said senior guard Xavier Thames, who leads SDSU with 16.3 points per game. "Hopefully we can go out there and get a win."
The Aztecs will be taking a break from Mountain West play after Thames scored a game-high 23 points in Wednesday's 71-61 victory over Colorado State - the team's 10th straight win since losing to the Wildcats.
"I think a lot of questions have been answered about our team. Not all of them, but some have been answered since that Arizona game," Thames said. "I think we're a better team (now)."
Kansas coach Bill Self doesn't feel the same way about his squad, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. The Jayhawks are coming off a 93-83 win over Toledo on Dec. 30 in which they tied a season worst for points allowed and gave up 47 in the second half.
"You shouldn't have to shoot 67 percent in the second half at home and hang 50 in order to win by 10," said Self, whose team ranks eighth in the 10-team Big 12 in scoring defense with 68.8 points allowed per game.
Perry Ellis scored 21, while Naadir Tharpe and standout freshman guard Andrew Wiggins added 20 apiece for Kansas.
Wiggins averages a team-best 15.9 points and at 6-foot-8 poses a unique challenge for SDSU's smaller guard rotation. Shepard, a 6-8 sophomore forward, has stepped up of late for the Aztecs with 17.3 points over his last four games and is excited to face Wiggins.
"I think I'm a pretty good player, too, so we'll see," he said.
The Jayhawks beat then-No. 4 Duke on Nov. 12, but they've also lost to No. 11 Villanova on Nov. 29 and against No. 20 Colorado on Dec. 7 - both of which were unranked at the time - and then-No. 19 Florida on Dec. 10.
"Definitely, we still haven't shown the killer instinct," Tharpe said. "I don't think we have it at all."
Despite their inconsistent defense, the Jayhawks' offense leads the Big 12 in field-goal percentage (50.9). They hit 7 of 14 from 3-point range in their last contest.
"Yes, I know they've lost three games, but if you watched their game against Toledo, it was probably the best game they've played in terms of shooting the ball," Fisher said. "(Kansas) gets huge runs at home, and they get them against everybody. We can't let that happen to us. We have to manage their runs and control when the crowd gets going."
These teams haven't met since the Jayhawks beat the Aztecs 79-66 on Dec. 8, 1979.