San Diego, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - Already owning the record for consecutive conference victories, the fifth-ranked San Diego State Aztecs now try to match the program's all-time longest win streak when it shoots for the 20th straight versus Mountain West Conference foe, Nevada.
Since bowing to nationally-ranked Arizona at home back on Nov. 14 by a score of 69-60, the Aztecs have ripped off 19 straight wins, the third-longest active run in the country behind top-ranked Syracuse and Wichita State. Granted, there have been a few close calls, but still SDSU stands alone at the top of the MWC standings heading into the weekend.
On Wednesday night, the Aztecs were taken down to the wire by Boise State for the second time in the span of a month, slipping by with a 67-65 victory at Taco Bell Arena after trailing by double figures in the second half. In January, the teams battled to a three-point decision (69-66) at Viejas Arena.
Meanwhile, Nevada is no stranger to close calls either, having played to overtime a total of five times this season, three of those contests taking place in the last five games. However, earlier this week the Wolf Pack played only the requisite 40 minutes during their 83-75 loss at Utah State at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The setback snapped a brief two-game win streak for a Nevada group that remains near the top of the MWC standings with a record of 7-3.
The Aztecs own a 7-3 advantage in the all-time series with Nevada, taking both meetings a season ago with an 88-75 triumph at home, and a more lopsided 78-57 final on the road in Reno. The last victory for the Wolf Pack took place back in December of 1998 when Nevada crushed SDSU in Reno by a final of 94-75. The one win, in four tries, for the Pack in San Diego was an 83-62 decision way back in 1961.
Nevada led by as many as eight points in the first half against the Aggies earlier this week, but then allowed the hosts to make good on 61.5 percent from the field and 5-of-7 behind the 3-point line in the second half, en route to the eight-point loss. As expected, Deonte Burton led the way at the offensive end for the Pack with 23 points, hitting 9-of-18 from the floor overall, but just 1-of-5 beyond the arc, followed by Cole Huff with 21 and seven boards. Michael Perez pitched in with 12 points in an effort to compensate for a weak performance by Jerry Evans who tallied only seven points on 2-of-11 from the floor.
Now second in school history in career points with 1,944, Burton has reached double figures in all but one game this year, and is currently generating 21.1 ppg to pace the Pack. In addition to filling up the basket on his own, Burton has also made sure to look for his teammates, piling up a team-best 89 assists over the course of 23 starts. Evans, the other long-time starter for Nevada, checks in with 13.2 ppg and 6.3 rpg, followed by Huff (11.9 ppg) and Michael Perez (11.6 ppg). Put those four double-digit scorers together and see that they've combined for all but six of the team's 150 3-point baskets.
Pushing San Diego State to the limit for the second time this season, the Broncos should have ended SDSU's win streak on Wednesday night when you consider the hosts led by as many as 14 points in the second half. Playing the unlikely hero for the Aztecs was Dwayne Polee II who knocked down a 3-pointer with four seconds remaining to put the visitors up for good. Polee played a total of 19 minutes off the bench and finished with nine points, but it was Xavier Thames who put the team in position to win the game as he tallied a game-high 23 points, delivering eight straight during one critical stretch. Josh Davis added 10 points and five rebounds for the Aztecs.
Thames leads the squad in scoring at the moment with his 18.2 ppg, thanks to not only his 44.7 percent accuracy behind the 3-point line, but also an impressive 120-of-144 (.833) showing at the charity stripe where he has helped to give SDSU a scoring advantage of 164 points through 21 games. Winston Shepard accounts for 12.8 ppg, the only other player in double figures for San Diego State, and he too has been a mainstay at the stripe (94-of-143). Put the pair together and their 214 free throws is just seven fewer than all of the opposing teams combined.