McNeese St.-San Diego St. Preview

The Associated Press

Already among the nation's best defensive teams, San Diego State hopes to further excel in that area while in the midst of a favorable three-game home stretch.

The surging No. 24 Aztecs would appear to be in store for another dominant defensive performance Saturday night against struggling McNeese State.

Playing for the first time in 10 days, San Diego State (8-1) jumped out to a 37-4 lead and held Southern Utah to 11 first-half points en route to a 76-39 home rout Wednesday.

Winners of seven in a row since falling 69-60 to an Arizona team that's currently ranked No. 1 in the nation, the Aztecs rate among the national leaders by allowing 56.4 points per game and holding opponents to 37.0 percent shooting.

They limited the 1-7 Thunderbirds to 28.6 percent from the field and outrebounded them 41-29 during the one-sided affair. Leading scorer Xavier Thames (17.2 points per game) scored a team-high 16 in 20 minutes as the Aztecs went 29 of 58 from the field.

"It was good to get the victory and the way we got the victory," coach Steve Fisher said. "We're 8-1 and ready to move forward."

With McNeese State (2-8) and St. Katherine College of the NAIA on the schedule before opening Mountain West Conference play at Colorado State on New Year's Day, the Aztecs have two more chances to fine-tune their overall game.

"I feel like we have to approach every game the same," said forward Josh Davis, who had 13 points and 14 rebounds Wednesday. "We want to go out there and play as hard as we can. That's the only way to get better. We don't take any team lightly. We play every game the same exact way."

San Diego State could have second-leading scorer Winston Shepard (11.8) back after he missed Wednesday's game due to an unspecified conduct issue.

"You have a responsibility as a player to make sure you're representing first yourself, then the team, then the university, in a fashion that's fitting," Fisher said. "As a result of some things that Winston did, I chose not to play him, not to dress him."

It's likely the Aztecs could again get by without Shepard if needed.

McNeese State has averaged 60.3 points, shot 35.6 percent and been outscored by an average of 21.5 points while going winless in six true road games.

The Cowboys have played just one home game, and neither of their victories came over a Division I opponent. They shot 27.4 percent and were outrebounded 66-29 during a season-opening 98-56 loss at then-No. 2 Michigan State on Nov. 8.

Guard Ledrick Eackles averages a team-leading 14.4 points despite shooting 30.8 percent. The senior scored a team-high 11 as the Cowboys suffered their fifth straight defeat, 64-50 at Louisiana Tech on Tuesday.

A winner in 16 straight and 62 of 65 home games against unranked, non-conference opponents, San Diego State won 91-85 in the only previous meeting with McNeese State on Dec. 20, 1984, in Las Vegas.

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