(13) San Diego State (24-3) at Fresno State (15-14)
03/01/2014 7:36 AM
03/01/2014 8:07 AM
GAME NOTES: With three games remaining in the regular season, the 13th-ranked San Diego State Aztecs try to at least stay in a tie for first place in the Mountain West Conference standings as they tangle with the Fresno State Bulldogs at the Save Mart Center on Saturday night.
For the majority of the season the Aztecs were the team to beat in the MWC, at one point winning 20 straight decisions, but the squad now finds itself tied with New Mexico atop the MWC standings at 13-2. Three nights ago, San Diego State bounced back from a dismal 58-44 loss to New Mexico last weekend by delivering a huge 90-64 beat down of San Jose State at home. The victory was the third in the last four games for a program that still has a bright outlook in March and possibly beyond.
As for the Bulldogs, they have split their first 16 league decisions and are currently seventh in the conference standings, but a few nights back they managed to do what no other MWC team had been able to do in 2013-14. Fresno State lit up Boise State at home in a lopsided 76-56 decision, the first MWC program to score a 20-point win versus the Broncos this season. The win was the second in a row and the seventh in eight games for the group.
In terms of the all-time series, San Diego State is ahead by a count of 57-45, with the majority of those victories coming in southern California. The Aztecs, then ranked 10th in the nation, won the first meeting of the season at home in the middle of January by a score of 68-60.
Against the weakest team in the MWC, the Aztecs ripped through San Jose State without much effort earlier this week, holding the visitors to just 37.7 percent shooting from the floor and a total of 20 field goals, against 22 turnovers. At the offensive end of the floor, once the outcome was never in doubt, SDSU spread the wealth and cleared the bench, allowing reserves Dwayne Polee II and Matt Shrigley to tally 12 and 11 points, respectively. Starters Winston Shepard and JJ O'Brien chimed in with 12 points apiece, but only Xavier Thames (eight points, five assists) played more than 21 minutes for the program.
From an offensive standpoint, Thames directs the traffic on the floor for the Aztecs and as a result is being considered for player of the year honors in the MWC. He is averaging a solid 16.4 ppg and has delivered 78 assists, many of which have gone to Shepard who is the only other double-digit scorer at the moment with his 1.2 4 ppg. But more important than the offense for the Aztecs is their suffocating defense, which limits opponents to just 38.0 percent shooting from the floor, 29.0 percent behind the 3-point line, and meager 56.9 ppg, which is one of the best marks in the country.
The Bulldogs can best be described as an enigmatic bunch this season, but at least the team is moving in a positive direction at the right time of the season. Three nights ago, FSU not only pulled off a win against Boise State, it did so in grand style by limiting the visitors to only 38.0 percent shooting from the floor overall and a dismal 2-of-18 showing behind the 3- point line in the 20-point blowout. Marvelle Harris was nearly perfect at the offensive end for the Bulldogs as he converted 9-of-11 from the floor, 4-of-4 behind the 3-point line, en route to a game-high 26. Tyler Johnson pitched in with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists, followed by Allen Huddleston with 12 points off the bench.
A starter in all 25 games in which he has appeared this season, Johnson paces the Bulldogs with his 16.5 ppg, not to mention pulling down 7.5 rpg. A dual threat on the inside and out on the perimeter, Johnson can not only hit the glass with authority, he is also one of the better 3-point shooters at 44.6 percent and is second on the unit with 77 assists. Harris (15.1 ppg) and Cezar Guerrero (13.4 ppg) help to carry the load on offense, the latter also responsible for 112 assists.
As great as Fresno State has been playing of late, these last few games of the regular season are crucial for the Aztecs, not just for their spot in the standings, but also to build their confidence as the postseason rolls around.
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