San Diego State junior point guard Xavier Thames continues to deal with an injured back. The Aztecs need him at full strength if they hope to play well in the second half of Mountain West Conference play. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego State Struggles in First Half of Conference Games; Aztecs in Need of Big Wins in Second Half

The San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball team has completed the first half of its conference schedule, and now faces Fresno State at Viejas Arena on Saturday at 3 p.m. to open the second half.

The way the conference schedule is set up, the Aztecs will play their eight conference opponents in the same order they played them in the first half of conference play, except the venues will change. Fresno State, Wyoming, Air Force and Nevada will visit Viejas Arena, while SDSU will travel to Colorado State, UNLV, New Mexico and Boise State.

Here is a look back at the first half of conference play, and a look forward to what the second half might bring.

A look back

San Diego State struggled in the first half of conference play and is currently third place in the Mountain West with a 5-3 record. But that record doesn’t tell the whole story.

The Aztecs showed flashes of brilliance at times. The first half against Colorado State, the Aztecs made 10-of-18 3-pointers and outscored the Rams 41-23. The first 15 minutes of the Boise State victory, SDSU was up 34-17 on the Broncos. And they held New Mexico to just 34 points in the entire game, the lowest point total for the Lobos since the inception of the shot clock.

The problem was that outside of the complete domination of New Mexico for the entire game, the Aztecs couldn’t sustain that brilliance for forty minutes. They needed overtime to beat Colorado State and a late 3-pointer by Chase Tapley to beat Boise State after controlling those games early.

There were also stretches of downright ugly basketball. They scored nine points in the first half in a loss at Wyoming. They gave up 48 points to UNLV in the first half of a loss at home.

A look ahead

 The Aztecs have their toughest road tests ahead of them, with upcoming trips to Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico. They finish the season on the road at Boise State, a team they barely beat on Wednesday. In short, they have four very losable road games ahead of them.

Fresno State, Saturday, 3 p.m.

If ever there were a must-win conference game, this is it. SDSU has already proven to be the better team by beating the Bulldogs in Fresno without the help of injured point guard Xavier Thames. Now they get the Bulldogs at home and Thames should play. If the Aztecs are to have any chance at winning the Mountain West Conference, they need to protect their home court in the second half. The Bulldogs will come into Viejas Arena with confidence after knocking off UNLV on Wednesday.

At Colorado State, February 13, 7 p.m.

The first half of the game against the Rams at Viejas Arena, the Aztecs put together one of their most impressive performances of the season, running out to a commanding 41-23 lead. They shot 48.1-percent from the field, including 55.6-percent on 3-pointers. They got the job done on defense too, holding the Rams to 26.5-percent shooting.

The second half was an entirely different story, as the Rams outrebounded the Aztecs 28-16 and forced the game into overtime. Chase Tapley came to the rescue in the overtime period, pouring in 12 points to secure a 79-72 victory.

Colorado State is the best rebounding team in the nation and is almost impossible to beat at home. At Moby Arena the Rams have won 13 straight this season, 26 straight since last year, and have lost just once at home over the last two seasons. Winning in Fort Collins will require that the Aztecs rebound much better than they did in the first meeting.

At UNLV, February 16, 6 p.m.

The Rebels dominated the Aztecs in the first meeting at Viejas, especially in the paint and on the glass. What makes the loss the most difficult to swallow is that it was just the third conference road game the Rebels have won over the last two seasons, and was the first that they won in regulation.

UNLV has become SDSU’s primary rival, and beating a rival on their home floor is never easy. The Aztecs need to defend the post better than the first matchup, especially against Khem Birch, who had his way inside with the Aztec defenders.

The Rebels have also been known to fall in love with 3-pointers, even if they’re not shooting them that well. If the Aztecs can force the Rebels to shoot a lot of 3’s, they’ll have a chance to steal a road win at the Thomas & Mack. If not, they could be looking at a 0-2 week depending on the outcome in Fort Collins.

Wyoming, February 19, 7 p.m.

The Aztecs played their worst game of the season against the Cowboys in Laramie. It’s probable that they will want to exact some revenge for that loss. They will get their chance at Viejas Arena in a rare Tuesday night game.

The Cowboys are just 2-6 in conference after entering Mountain West play undefeated. This will be another game the Aztecs cannot afford to lose. Any hiccups at home in the second half of conference play almost assuredly will take them out of contention for the conference championship.

Nevada, February 23, 3 p.m.  

Along with the visit from Fresno State to open the second half of conference play, this should be the easiest game on the schedule. The Wolf Pack have struggled in their first season in the Mountain West.

This game will mark the second visit in the week from a team that is currently 2-6 in conference. The Aztecs absolutely have to go 2-0 this week.

At New Mexico, February 27, 7 p.m.

The Aztecs dominated the Lobos in the first game at Viejas Arena. It was the only loss for New Mexico in the first half of conference play. The Lobos will surely want to get revenge when the Aztecs visit The Pit.

Depending on what the Aztecs do on the road against Colorado State and UNLV, this could end up being one of the most important and meaningful games towards crowning the Mountain West champion. It could also very easily be the Aztecs’ sixth conference loss.

Air Force, March 6, 8:30 p.m.

Air Force is a very good basketball team, and proved so by beating SDSU 70-67 in Colorado Springs. But again, this is the type of game the Aztecs must win down the stretch.

SDSU needs to take advantage of Air Force’s weak interior defense and almost non-existent rebounding. The Aztecs should not be content to settle for 3-pointers. If they constantly attack the rim, they should win this game.

At Boise State, March 9, 12:30 p.m.

Three of the last four games in this series have come down to the final possession. Boise State missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer last season in Viejas that would have won the game. In the conference tournament last year, Jamaal Franklin hit a 3-pointer as time expired for the win. And just last Wednesday, Chase Tapley lifted the Aztecs to a one-point victory on a 3-pointer with 2.8 seconds left.

If the Aztecs don’t find a win or two on the road against Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico, a loss here could put the Aztecs at 9-7 in conference play, or even worse if they drop another home game. That kind of record could end up being costly for their chances in both the conference tournament and NCAA tournament.


Tags: Aztecs College Basketball Mountain West Conference San Diego State

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