SAN DIEGO (AP) Going to Wyoming has always been the least-favorite road trip for San Diego State’s basketball team.
Two years ago, the Aztecs chartered a plane to Laramie with nightmarish results – it took 20 hours because the plane was grounded overnight in Utah by a snowstorm.
Last year, the Aztecs scored only 9 points in the first half of a 58-45 loss in Laramie.
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So if the Aztecs can extend their winning streak to 21 games by beating the Cowboys in Laramie on Tuesday night, it will be a school record well-earned.
”We’d like to, yes,” coach Steve Fisher said Monday. ”More importantly, we’d like to stay undefeated in league play.”
The Aztecs (21-1, 10-0) have tied the school record for consecutive wins set by the 2010-11 squad. That team was denied a 21st straight victory by Jimmer Fredette and BYU, but it went on to finish a school-record 34-3 after reaching the Sweet Sixteen for the first time after recording the first two NCAA tournament victories in school history.
”Not many people in America, including us, have won 21 in a row,” Fisher said. ”Not many have won 20 in a row. And yet there are a couple this year that have won more than that. That’s what we would hope to do. But we’re more intent on winning the game than we are getting a record for the win streak. But it is neat that we are 21-1. It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment. We’re proud of that fact.”
The Aztecs kept the streak alive by rallying from 14 points down last week for a 67-65 victory at Boise State.
Now they go to Laramie, which ”presents a whole series of unique issues when you travel there,” Fisher said.
There’s the difficulty of getting there, the 7,165-foot elevation and the crowd at Arena-Auditorium.
”But more importantly, opponent,” Fisher said of the Cowboys (14-9, 5-5). ”They’re good. They’re playing very good basketball. They play everybody close, they play a style where it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re going to have a hard time getting in the mid-60s. And you might have a hard time getting into the mid- 50s.
”A year ago, there, we had nine points at halftime. And I don’t think I need to say anything more about the difficulties they present when you play them.”
Part of the reason the Aztecs struggled at Laramie last year was that star point guard Xavier Thames missed the game with a back injury. He’s carried the Aztecs offensively all season and is averaging 18.1 points per game.
Forward JJ O’Brien said he doesn’t really remember specifics about scoring only 9 points in the first half at Laramie last year, ”just that the effort really wasn’t there. We weren’t that great on defense and we really could not put the ball in the hole at all. Shots weren’t falling, but it mainly was just our effort. Our effort wasn’t really there that game.”
Fisher said he doesn’t want his players to use altitude as an excuse. The Aztecs have depth this year and he said he might go to the bench quicker than normal, if necessary.
As the wins pile up, Fisher has been able to keep his team playing at close to the same level.
”You sometimes can put yourself in position where you play not to lose rather than play to win, and you can’t have that,” Fisher said. ”You can’t be a scoreboard watcher every two minutes to see what the score is and how much time’s left and those sorts of things. Sometimes if you’re not careful that can happen. You have to focus on, `Let’s play as hard as we can, and if we play as hard as we can, we have a chance.’ I anticipate every game we play going down to the last four or five minutes with either team having an opportunity to win regardless of the record of either team, home or away. So you can’t get shocked when you say, `Are we only two points ahead? Are we three points behind?’
”I’ve also said that pressure’s good if it’s channeled the right way. I think if you put pressure on yourself to perform and to play well, that’s good. But it can’t be either fear of failure or fear of winning that you’re getting your pressure from.”
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson