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No. 6 Aztecs Bring Hype

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SDSU men’s basketball team takes nation’s longest winning streak to Pit today

 

A big Mountain West Conference game is no longer just a big Mountain West Conference game.

It’s a national affair.

And such will be the case this afternoon, when sixth-ranked San Diego State brings the nation’s longest winning streak (18) to the Pit to face New Mexico (13-4, 1-1).

With their deep and talented lineup, the Aztecs (18-0, 3-0) – along with 11th-ranked Brigham Young (17-1, 3-0) – are rapidly becoming household names.

BYU has national player-of-the-year candidate Jimmer Fredette, and San Diego State plays the game similar to throw-back UNLV teams.

The Aztecs display incredible defensive pressure and a fun-and-gun style of athleticism that typically results in an array of slam dunks and dazzling plays.

“I said it last year when we were 30-5 that I thought San Diego State was the best team we played all year,” says UNM coach Steve Alford. “I think they’re really, really talented, and they’ve got everybody back.”

The Aztecs went 25-9, won the MWC tournament and lost 62-59 to Tennessee in the opening round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

They are led by 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard, 6-9 forward Malcolm Thomas, 6-8 senior jumping-jack forward Billy White, senior guard D.J. Gay and sophomore guard Chase Tapley.

The Aztecs have won a national-high 10 games away from home, including a 77-57 road blowout of California – the same team that ripped the Lobos 89-64 this season. They also won at then-No.11 Gonzaga and at home against St. Mary’s (15-2).

In league play, the Aztecs have road wins at TCU and Utah and a home win against UNLV.

But is all the national exposure a distraction?

“No, because of the fact that we’ve got five seniors and a veteran team,” says 12th-year SDSU coach Steve Fisher. “All of the guys who are starting this year started quite a bit last year. They’ve been pretty good at managing our emotions. But we’ve also told them to embrace the fact that we are what we are.”

Fisher, 65 and in his 21st season as a head coach, knows a little something about the national stage. He coached Michigan to the NCAA title in 1989.

Yet, he says he’s having more fun now than ever before.

“We’ve all embraced it. We’ve enjoyed the fact we’ve been talked about nationally, and that we’ve had crowds like you (in the Pit) have – six of our last seven games have been sellouts, and it’s been absolutely a phenomenal college atmosphere in our arena.”

As it will be this afternoon in the Pit. Which is something the Lobos will need. UNM is 9-0 at home, but hasn’t been overly impressive in the new calendar year.

The Lobos lost their MWC opener last Saturday at Wyoming and let a double-digit lead shrink to a point in the final minute before pulling out a 68-61 home win against Colorado State on Wednesday.

“The pressure was on us, and we responded well,” Alford said of how the CSU win should help his team today. “We made free throws, made shots and got stops that we had to have in a game that was kind of ugly because of all the foul shots and disruption before halftime.”

The game was delayed for 38 minutes and the Pit was evacuated because of a false fire alarm with one second left in the first half. It was the second time this season the Pit had to be evacuated.

Today, the Lobos can only hope it’s not the Aztecs who catch fire.

“It will be a hard-fought, physical game,” said UNM senior guard Dairese Gary. “The great thing is playing at the Pit with our fans there.”

 

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