San Diego, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - No longer in sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Conference, the 13th-ranked San Diego State Aztecs try to regain their footing tonight as they host the San Jose State Spartans at Viejas Arena.
Winners of 39 straight games against opponents from the state of California, the Aztecs had been flying high as the fifth-ranked team in the country just a few weeks ago, but a loss to Wyoming on the road knocked them down a spot. Then, after defeating Air Force and Utah State in back-to-back affairs, SDSU then bowed to New Mexico over the weekend in an awkward 58-44 final in The Pit.
Not only did the loss to the Lobos send San Diego State down to 13th in the latest installment of the Associated Press Poll, the team is now also tied with UNM atop the league standings at 12-2.
Wallowing at the other end of the Mountain West is a San Jose State squad that is a mere 1-13 in league bouts, but finally picked up that elusive first MWC victory last week against Nevada, 66-64. The decision snapped a 13-game slide by the Spartans.
Despite the miserable season the Spartans have had to endure, the team actually clings to a 4-3 edge in the all-time series with SDSU, even though the Aztecs crushed SJSU in the first meeting of the season, 75-50, at the Event Center last month.
In a game that featured eight ties and 15 lead changes, the Spartans led by as many as nine points early in the second half against Nevada last week, but had to hold on for the two-point decision at the Lawlor Events Center. Isaac Thornton tallied a game-high 15 points, shooting 3-of-6 behind the 3-point line before fouling out, followed by Jaleel Williams and Rashad Muhammad with 12 and 11 points, respectively, for a squad that survived 15 turnovers by limiting the hosts to 5-of-21 shooting behind the 3-point line.
Muhammad may be a bench player for the Spartans, but that hasn't prevented him from leading the team in scoring this season with 13.6 ppg, thanks in large part to his 41.7 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line. An impressive 83.2 percent accurate at the free-throw line, Muhammad is shooting only 38.1 percent from the floor, which falls right in line with the team overall at a mere 37.9 percent. Williams is producing another 10.5 ppg for a unit that is generating a mere 63.2 ppg.
It was just the third loss of the season for the Aztecs, but the setback against New Mexico said quite a bit about SDSU at this point in the campaign. The team was held to a season-low in points and field goal percentage (.323), not to mention missing all three of their chances at the free-throw line. Winston Shepard was the only player in double figures for the Aztecs as he tallied 10 points, clearing six rebounds as well, but he also turned the ball over four times.
Xavier Thames, who finished with just seven points against New Mexico after converting a mere 3-of-15 from the floor, continues to lead the program in scoring with 16.8 ppg and is also first on the unit with 73 assists and 41 steals. Shepard steps up with 12.4 ppg, but he doesn't have that great of a touch beyond the arc (.200) or at the free-throw line (.662). Obviously the success of the Aztecs has not been predicated on an aggressive offense, rather it is a defense that has held opponents to just 56.6 ppg on 38.0 percent shooting from the floor.