San Diego State coach Steve Fisher likes what he's seen during the soft portion of the team's schedule. His hope is that his players come out of it prepared for when things get tougher in 2014.
Seeking their ninth consecutive victory, the 20th-ranked Aztecs have one more favorable home matchup against neighboring Saint Katherine College on Friday night before opening Mountain West play on New Year's Day.
San Diego State (9-1) shouldn't have much trouble sweeping a four-game stay at Viejas Arena with a date against an NAIA program in its inaugural season. The Aztecs have won 17 straight at home against unranked opponents by an average of 26.8 points and 60 of 62 since December 2005.
After rallying past Washington for a 70-63 victory in the opener, they've cruised past Southern Utah and McNeese State by a combined 66 points while limiting them to 25.2 percent shooting (27 for 107).
That outstanding defense has keyed San Diego State during its longest winning streak since an 11-game run early last season. The Aztecs lead the nation with a 35.4 defensive field goal percentage while ranking third with 54.4 points allowed per game.
They'll try to stay sharp on the defensive end against the Fightin' Firebirds (2-11) with a stretch against three consecutive 2013 NCAA tournament teams on the horizon. San Diego State opens conference play at Colorado State on Jan. 1 before traveling to No. 16 Kansas on Jan. 5 and hosting Boise State three days later.
"You have to trust your defense will be good enough to keep you in games so when you start making a few (shots), it will matter," Fisher said. "So I like our team. ... I haven't really watched the other teams in our league, but I know our first game at Colorado State will be hard. It will be a tough game, and we'll have to be ready. Every game, we better be ready to play."
Fisher sent a message by suspending second-leading scorer Winston Shepard for the Southern Utah game on Dec. 18. The sophomore forward responded by finishing with a team-high 14 points - including seven straight during a 13-0 second-half run - in Saturday's 65-36 win over McNeese State.
Neither Shepard nor Fisher would say what it was that left Shepard in street clothes during a 76-39 victory over the Thunderbirds.
"I want to just come out and play as hard as I can," Shepard said. "Sitting out (stinks) but I tried to learn what I can from it."
Josh Davis had 12 points and matched a career high with 17 rebounds, while Aqeel Quinn and Matt Shrigley combined for 23 points but shot 8 for 24 from the floor.
Davis, who has averaged 14.0 boards over his last four games, should be in line for another dominant effort against a Saint Katherine team that was outrebounded 56-28 in a 102-85 loss at Hawaii Pacific on Sunday.
San Diego State's Xavier Thames, averaging a team-high 16.0 points, will try to bounce back from his worst performance after matching a season low with five points on 1-of-13 shooting against the Cowboys.
The Aztecs had a 37.3 field-goal percentage and shot a season-worst 7 for 27 from beyond the arc, though they should be able to make positive strides Friday.
Saint Katherine's Dante Miller averages a team-high 13.1 points, but he totaled 14 on just 5-of-22 shooting in losses to Division-I opponents Utah Valley (107-36) and Weber State (89-37).
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