San Diego State has used strong defensive efforts and second-half surges to claim many of its 16 consecutive victories to open the season.
Senior forward Malcolm Thomas, though, wants his team to play a more complete game, especially with a tough stretch of Mountain West contests coming up.
After struggling to win their conference opener, the sixth-ranked Aztecs will try to stay unbeaten Saturday by winning consecutive road games over Utah for the first time.
San Diego State (16-0, 1-0) has held opponents to 58.4 points per game on 40.0 percent shooting during the best start in school history. A 66-53 victory at TCU on Wednesday night marked the fourth straight time the Aztecs have allowed fewer than 57 points.
A 13-0 run in the second half helped them add to their school-record win streak, also the nation’s second-longest behind No. 1 Duke’s 24 consecutive victories.
San Diego State has produced 22 scoring spurts this season of at least nine consecutive points.
“I kind of did expect (the second-half run),” said Thomas, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds. “But if we want to get to where we want to go, we can’t play just half games.”
Thomas’ team led by just three at halftime after not leading at the break in its previous two games against Division I opponents.
Another slow start may not be a problem against the Utes (7-8, 0-1), losers of five straight, but the Aztecs might not be able to afford one next week. They host No. 25 UNLV on Wednesday night before next Saturday’s visit to New Mexico, which has won 34 of 35 at home. They also visit No. 15 BYU later this month.
“If you want to win this league, you have to find ways to win on the road,” coach Steve Fisher said. “We did that (against TCU) and we need to do it again Saturday.”
San Diego State has never recorded back-to-back victories in Salt Lake City, going 3-30 there and 15-53 all-time against Utah.
The Aztecs swept the season series with the Utes for the second time in school history in 2009-10 but nearly blew an eight-point lead with 41 seconds left in a 70-68 victory at the Huntsman Center on Jan. 19.
Thomas had 23 points and 13 rebounds in that game, and he scored a career-high 28 in a 68-61 home win over the Utes on Feb. 20. He’s averaging 15.7 points and 9.0 boards in his last seven games.
Sophomore Kawhi Leonard, who recorded two double-doubles against Utah last season, had his 10th of this season and second in a row Wednesday despite some early foul trouble.
The Utes also opened their Mountain West season on the road Wednesday but fell 77-69 to Air Force. After scoring 20 points at Portland on Dec. 31, Chris Kupets had a career-high 25 off the bench, but Will Clyburn was his only teammate with more than six points.
Clyburn had 16 points and is second in the conference with 18.9 per game. He’s shooting 43.9 percent from beyond the arc this season, going 9 of 16 in the past two games.
All of the Utes’ five straight losses have come away from home. They are 6-1 in Salt Lake City.
Utah hasn’t dropped six straight since Dec. 21, 2006-Jan. 13, 2007, and has never suffered three consecutive overall defeats to San Diego State.