San Diego, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 20th-ranked San Diego State Aztecs try to run their win streak against California-based programs to 36 in a row tonight, as they host the young and inexperienced Fightin' Firebirds of St. Katherine College.
The Aztecs are off to another promising start with nine wins in 10 opportunities. The team did bow to nationally-ranked Arizona early on in a 69-60 final, but since then SDSU has bounced back with eight straight victories. Last weekend, the team dismantled McNeese State in a 65-36 final, the second straight game that an opponent was held below 40 points.
Not only has San Diego State dominated opponents from the Golden State, the team is also carrying a 47-game win streak against unranked non conference foes and has posted 44 in a row at home versus unranked non-league opponents as well.
Members of the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference, the Fightin' Firebirds of St. Katherine College in Encinitas, California are in their first year of basketball, with their very first victory coming against Menlo College (87-82) back in the middle of November.
According to SDSU sources, the Firebirds are coming off consecutive defeats versus Menlo and Hawaii Pacific. The team lands at Viejas Arena, less than 30 miles from campus, having lost three straight outings. Before the stop in the South Pacific the Firebirds were torched by Weber State in a 107-36 final.
Needless to say, this is the first-ever meeting between these two programs.
Against Menlo College in their most recent outing on Dec. 21, the Firebirds were treated to some revenge as they bowed to the hosts by a score of 92-71. Joshua White and Dante Miller tried to fire up St. Katherine with 12 points apiece, while Jaylen Rose accounted for 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting behind the 3-point line off the bench. As a team, the Firebirds shot just 41.4 percent from the field and 15-of-25 at the free-throw line, and logged a mere four assists. Defensively, the unit allowed Menlo to connect on 60.3 percent from the field and 10-of-21 behind the 3-point line.
Through the first 12 games, Miller was one of the better scoring options for the Firebirds with his 12.8 ppg, accounting for a team-best 30 assists as well, although he was guilty of 44 turnovers at the same time. Wade Shugrue (12.2 ppg) and Dale Austin (12.0 ppg) are also listed as significant contributors on offense in the early going but they, like so many others on the roster, have been plagued with far too many turnovers and now the team is averaging in the neighborhood of 19 miscues per outing.
Even though the Aztecs were working with a short bench due to a number of injuries, the team still had little trouble picking up the win against McNeese State, considering the hosts closed the meeting on a 25-3 run. Winston Shepard led the way for SDSU with 14 points, adding five rebounds off the bench, while Aqeel Quinn and Josh Davis both tacked on 12 points, the latter clearing a hefty 17 rebounds along the way. Matt Shrigley pitched in with 11 points, although he shot just 4-of-12 from the floor, 2-of-9 behind the 3-point line. Xavier Thames, the one that head coach Steve Fisher counts on for consistency, responded with just five points on 1-of-13 shooting. As a team, SDSU connected on only 7-of-27 shots beyond the arc.
Thames is responsible for 16.2 ppg to pace the program overall this season, shooting an impressive 46.8 percent behind the 3-point line while also handing out a team-best 25 assists and logging 16 steals. Shepard (12.0 ppg) and JJ O'Brien (10.1 ppg) are also solid contributors on offense, but O'Brien is currently dealing with a hand injury that, should he even appear in this game, will certainly limit his minutes. As a group, San Diego State has held opponents to only 54.4 ppg, one of the best marks in the country, based on only 35.4 percent shooting from the floor.