A consistent desire to play well defensively has helped San Diego State overcome some poor shooting and notch the second-longest winning streak in school history.
Looking for a 16th straight win Wednesday night, the visiting No. 7 Aztecs hope to add to San Jose State's misery against league opponents in the teams' first meeting as Mountain West Conference members.
Off to its best start since the 2010-11 team opened with a school-record 20 consecutive victories, San Diego State (16-1, 5-0) last lost 69-60 at home to current No. 1 Arizona on Nov. 14.
"I was expecting us to be this good," said forward Josh Davis, who had 14 points and 14 rebounds in Saturday's 63-52 win over UNLV. "It's happening right now, so you can't complain."
Not with a defense that's first in the nation in field-goal percentage (35.4) and second in points allowed (55.7 per game). That hard-nosed defensive play has helped the Aztecs keep rolling despite hitting 38.6 percent from the field over the last five games.
That stretch began with them holding then-No. 16 Kansas to 29.8 percent shooting in a 61-57 road victory Jan. 5, and they kept the Runnin' Rebels to 30.0 percent.
Three days after shooting 33.3 percent in a 68-60 home win over Fresno State, the Aztecs hit 33.9 percent Saturday but held a 49-39 rebounding advantage and shot 16 more free throws with 13 more makes. Top scorer Xavier Thames was 3 for 14 from the field but 11 of 12 at the foul line.
"We're a good defensive team, and when you make it hard for (the opponent) to get easy shots, you're going to have a chance," coach Steve Fisher said. "If we guard, we'll be good. (The players) know that and they're doing it."
The poor shooting, though, has led to some tight games, with the last five being decided by an average of 6.6 points. The average margin in the Aztecs' four true road games is 5.5, but they won them all. They lost their final five road games last season.
"Our focus this year has been great," said Thames, averaging 19.5 points in the last six games.
They'll look to maintain that focus against the Spartans (6-12, 0-6), whose struggles from last year's final season in the Western Athletic Conference have carried over to their first in the Mountain West. San Jose State has dropped 19 straight conference games since a 76-71 win over Seattle on Jan. 5, 2013. However, the last two at home against Colorado State and New Mexico were decided by a combined six points.
San Jose State has won the last three home matchups in this series, but the former WAC rivals haven't met since the Aztecs' 75-72 win Feb. 27, 1999.
The Spartans went 4-0 in December but are 0-6 this month after a 67-56 loss at Wyoming on Saturday. They missed 12 of their first 15 shots and finished shooting 37.0 percent.
Freshman Rashad Muhammad averages a team-leading 16.2 points but has 14 in the last two games and is 7 of 33 from the field in the past three. He missed all seven field-goal attempts and finished with two points Saturday.
San Jose State has lost 19 straight versus Top 25 teams since a 60-59 overtime win over then-No. 19 Alabama on Dec. 27, 1996.
San Diego State has won 38 in a row against in-state schools.
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