Xavier Thames (Getty Images)
Then the Aztecs stiffened and Xavier Thames started doing the things that make him an All-American candidate.
Having held Boise State scoreless for more than eight minutes in the second half to claw back from a 14-point deficit, San Diego State turned to Thames to create something off the dribble on its final possession. Thames drove from the top of the key, forced the defense to collapse on him and kicked to Dwayne Polee II spotted up on the left wing for a 3-pointer that gave the Aztecs a thrilling 67-65 comeback victory.
San Diego State's rally from 14 down was the second largest of coach Steve Fisher's 15-year tenure. It also extended the fifth-ranked Aztecs' win streak to 18 in a row since a mid-November loss to Arizona and kept them unbeaten in Mountain West play, one game ahead of second-place New Mexico.
For a Boise State program that returned the core of last year's NCAA tournament team, this was a crushing defeat. Instead of earning a signature victory that could have revived the Broncos' flagging NCAA tournament hopes, Leon Rice's team fell to 5-5 in Mountain West play and squandered likely its final chance for a victory that will resonate with the selection committee.
The biggest problem for the host Broncos was that they couldn't generate defensive stops when they weren't forcing turnovers. Thames scored 23 points and got to the foul line 11 times as the typically defense-oriented Aztecs shot 58.5 percent from the field.
San Diego State needed to shoot that well to survive because it committed 16 turnovers and defended uncharacteristically lethargically on the perimeter until the final 12 minutes. Mikey Thompson scored a team-high 16 points for the Broncos as four guards combined for all but six of Boise State's points.
In the end, however, San Diego State managed to shut down the Broncos when it mattered and lean on Thames at the other end. It's a winning formula that has elevated a program supposedly due for a transition year into the top five in the nation.
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