San Diego State hasn’t been challenged throughout much of its season-high, six-game win streak and has helped itself by continuing to improve against a string of unheralded opponents.
With sophomore Xavier Thames expected to return, the 22nd-ranked Aztecs will get a final tune-up Tuesday night against winless Chicago State before opening Mountain West play with a highly anticipated matchup this weekend.
Since edging then-No. 24 California 64-63 on Dec. 4, San Diego State (13-2) has won its past five games by an average of 29.0 points and knocked off a pair of non-Division I teams in its last two.
The Aztecs topped NAIA opponent San Diego Christian 83-52 in the latest of those Friday as DeShawn Stephens scored a career-best 18 points. Garrett Green also matched a season high with 14 points.
Before that win, Fisher told his team not to feel, “as if you can come out and slum around and do foolish things and get a victory, but to play hard.”
He felt his team accomplished that goal by committing only 10 turnovers and attempting 32 foul shots for the second straight game.
“Sometimes you win and you walk out and you don’t feel good, but I think, legitimately, all of us feel good about the way we won,” Fisher said. “We’ve still got to get better, and I do believe that we will.”
Further improvements could help Fisher’s team during Saturday’s Mountain West opener against No. 12 UNLV at Viejas Arena, and the Aztecs will try to keep progressing as they face Chicago State (0-15).
San Diego State could get some help with Thames, the team’s third-leading scorer (12.0 points per game), likely returning after missing three games because of a strained right MCL. Forward Tim Shelton will likely continue to rest his knees before returning Saturday.
The Cougars have struggled at both ends of the floor while remaining one of three winless teams in Division I, averaging 58.7 points and allowing opponents to score 85.0 per game.
Chicago State nearly matched its season low for points allowed Friday during a visit to Mountain West opponent Air Force but fell 68-54. Leading scorer Jeremy Robinson (13.5 ppg) was held to seven points during the loss, but senior forward Lee Fisher had 16 points and a career-high 18 rebounds.
Fisher, who played his previous three seasons at Northern Illinois, is second on the team with 12.6 points per game and averaging a team-best 8.1 rebounds. Only three current players were with the Cougars last season.
Like the rest of their teammates, they’ve never faced San Diego State.
The Aztecs will try to record their fourth win streak of seven or more games over the last two seasons. Their previous one ended with a loss to Connecticut in the NCAA tournament’s regional semifinals.