SAN DIEGO (AP) - Steve Fisher’s San Diego State Aztecs are halfway through an undefeated run through the Mountain West Conference.
That’s right, the team that suffered stunning home losses to Little Rock, San Diego and Grand Canyon has ripped off nine straight victories in MWC play. Five of those have been on the road, the latest a 67-52 blowout victory at UNLV on Saturday night.
The first-place Aztecs (16-6, 9-0), who have reached the NCAA Tournament six straight seasons and eight times under Fisher, will try to keep it rolling when they host sixth-place Colorado State (4-4, 12-9) on Tuesday night. On Saturday, they host second-place New Mexico (6-2, 13-8).
No team has ever gone undefeated through MWC play, and the Aztecs profess that a perfect league record isn’t even in the backs of their minds.
“We have that next-game mentality,” guard Trey Kell said Monday. “We’re not worried about going 18-0 right now, we’re worried about going 10-0.”
The winning streak started with their conference opener at home against Wyoming on Dec. 30.
The Aztecs were eager to put behind them a mystifying non-conference schedule in which they had some unfathomable setbacks.
Losing to then-No. 2 Kansas 70-57 at home on Dec. 22 was one thing. SDSU even pulled within four points twice in the second half, and had the chance to close within a basket before missing a wide-open layup.
It was the home losses to Little Rock and Grand Canyon, and the five-point defeat to USD at Petco Park that had people wondering if SDSU was even going to be an NIT team this season.
“Just our focus,” senior Skylar Spencer said. “We play games on the edge because we’ve lost games and we know how that feels. We’ve just been turning things around and plan to stick with that.”
The Aztecs had a week off between the Kansas loss and the league opener.
“Ever since then we’ve been a different team and now we all have the confidence that we should have to win all these games,” Kell said.
“We’re not really worried about anything except for the next game ahead of us,” Spencer said. “We just are extremely focused.”
As they have during Fisher’s 17 seasons, the Aztecs are playing great defense. They’re second nationally in points allowed (59.5), first in field-goal percentage defense (36.1), first in two-point field goal percentage defense (39.6) and 16th in blocked shots (5.64).
Kell, who helped lead San Diego’s St. Augustine High to a state championship, is having a strong season after struggling as a freshman. He scored a career-high 27 points in a 73-67 overtime victory against Fresno State on Jan. 19.
“If you point specifically, you start with Trey Kell,” Fisher said. “He is scoring the ball like he did at St. Augustine, and playing that way. That’s what everybody wanted to see and now we’re seeing it, so we need to keep it.”
Kell was only 3 of 13 against UNLV, “but he made plays,” Fisher said. “He had seven deflections in that game that don’t show up in the stats. So he’s playing with brains and he’s playing with confidence.”
The best finish by a MWC team was 13-1 by Utah in 2004-05. SDSU went 14-2 in 2010-11 and 16-2 in 2013-14, reaching the Sweet 16 each of those seasons.
San Diego State might still need to win the Mountain West tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament. But its situation isn’t as dire as it was earlier.
The Aztecs’ RPI was 100 on Jan. 11. On Monday, it was 47.
“I like our team,” Fisher said. “We’re getting better. We’re making progress. We now need to say, we’ve got a big game, and not worry about what we’ve done, but what we have to do in this game Tuesday night.”
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