Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Make that 16 wins in a row, thanks to
San Jose State on Wednesday night.
The most dominant team in California right now, you ask? Could it be UCLA with
new head coach Steve Alford, or maybe Stanford, Cal, USC?
No, on all accounts.
Believe it or not, the only team from the Golden State even in the Associated
Press Top 25 at the moment is ... San Diego State?
The Aztecs (17-1) are not just in the Top 25, hovering on the fringe as if
their next setback could banish them for the rest of the season, they entered
the week ranked seventh in the country. That's right, only the big boys of
basketball have a leg up on SDSU at the moment.
The Aztecs are not from one of the glamorous power conferences, nor do they
appear in heavy rotation on sports show highlights, but that doesn't matter
because it is wins they crave and success they've enjoyed.
Against the Spartans on Wednesday night, SDSU held the opposition to just 32
points through the first 33 minutes of action before taking its foot off the
gas in a 75-50 win. With their 39th consecutive win over another school from
the state of California, the Aztecs own the fourth-longest active win streak in
the country behind Wichita State (20), Arizona (18) and Syracuse (18).
San Diego State is a perfect 6-0 in conference play (Mountain West) for the
first time in 44 seasons at the Division I level. The last time an Aztecs squad
opened league play undefeated through the first six outings was in 1966-67 when
they were members of the CCAA (California Collegiate Athletic Association) en
route to the quarterfinals of the Division II tournament.
Way back on Nov. 14, San Diego State hosted sixth-ranked Arizona, and bowed to
the Wildcats (now one of three undefeated teams in Division I and currently
the top-ranked team in the nation), 69-60. It wasn't that big of a deal at the
time, but looking back, that meeting was the impetus for the Aztecs to turn the
corner and create their own destiny this season.
"It feels good, but like we've said all season, we're going for the No. 1
spot," says forward Winston Shepard of the team's current status. "That's where
we ultimately want to be. So seventh is good and we're glad we're getting more
respect, but we don't think we're done yet."
Head coach Steve Fisher has been the savior for this program since arriving to
take over in 1999. Sure, the 1999-2000 version of the Aztecs had their
struggles, finishing only 5-23 overall and winless in 14 tries in the new
Mountain West Conference, but the growing pains were going to pay off in a big
Since stumbling out of the gate, Fisher's programs have had just one losing
season and have taken the MWC Tournament title four times. Since 2001-02, the
Aztecs have made it to the postseason all but two times, appearing in the NCAA
Tournament each of the last four years. Unfortunately, as great as those SDSU
teams have been during the regular season, the squad has come up short when it
has counted most.
Coach Fisher has provided the program with plenty of exposure come tournament
time, but at some point all of the experience and effort have to pay off, and
this could be the year, considering how much the Aztecs have accomplished
Granted, the team generally flies under the radar on a national level, mainly
because the program often plays games when it's late on the East Coast and much
of the rest of the country isn't tuned in. However, in the last few years,
there have been a couple of players who have managed to garner interest beyond
the Golden State, namely Kawhi Leonard and Jamaal Franklin, so there is some
hope for this roster yet.
Leonard, who was selected 15th by the Indiana Pacers in the 2011 NBA Draft,
played a key role in the San Antonio Spurs making it to the NBA Finals just
last season, while Franklin has yet to make a name for himself after being
picked up in the second round of the 2013 NBA Draft by Memphis (coincidentally,
Leonard suffered a fracture to his right hand on Wednesday night versus
Oklahoma City and will be out of action until further notice).
This season's group of Aztecs don't have much flash, very few highlight film
clips, but they are a dedicated defensive bunch that could cause some trouble
for more than a few more notable programs once March rolls around. As of
Sunday, only Clemson had a better scoring defense than SDSU, limiting foes to
53.5 points per game while the Aztecs give up 55.7 ppg.
Opponents were hitting field goals at a paltry 35.4 percent versus Fisher's
bunch, which in this case is the best mark among Division I schools entering
the week. The squad is posting 6.2 blocked shots per contest - ranked 19th in
the nation - and with a positive turnover margin of 3.8 per outing, San Diego
State is in the top 20 in that category as well.
Considering the squad takes so much pride in shutting down opponents, it should
not come as a surprise the Aztecs are seventh in the country in scoring margin
with an advantage of 18.4 ppg prior to Wednesday night's meeting with San Jose
Xavier Thames, one of two players to have started every game, leads the program
in scoring (16.9 ppg), assists (47) and steals (32), while Shepard is the only
other Aztec in double-figure scoring with his 13.1 ppg. Josh Davis, a transfer
from Tulane, accounts for 9.1 ppg and a team-best 11.5 rebounds per game,
numbers that help to offset his mere 47.4 percent accuracy at the free throw
And there it is. If you are looking for a weak spot in the San Diego State
assault, it is at the foul line, where they have converted only 64.7 percent of
their attempts. Still, the squad has outscored the opposition by 126 at the
line, and as long as the winning margins continue to be by a wide margin, the
struggles at the line may not be too much of a concern.
Maybe the Aztecs don't have the bright spotlights shining down on them or are
supplying the most popular sound bite of the day following another win, but it
seems to be working just fine for Fisher and his players right now.
"We are excited about people talking about our ranking and how we have gone
from not even receiving votes at the start of the season, to being No. 24 after
winning in (the Wooden Legacy) and steadily creeping up the polls," Fisher
"You don't win on reputation. You win on performance and on coming out every
day and being consistent with how you play, and that's why we're where we are.
We've played hard, we've respected our opponents and we've played well
The Sports Network