The road doesn’t get any easier for San Diego State, which takes a perfect conference record and 16-game winning streak into prime time with a showdown Saturday night at Utah State.
The Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan, Utah, is a notoriously tough place to play. The No. 7 Aztecs (17-1, 6-0 in the Mountain West Conference) hope to put that out of their minds once the ball is tipped.
"You see it when you first walk in for shoot around and things like that, but once the game starts, I don't think anybody really pays attention to all that stuff,” senior guard Xavier Thames said. “You just heard the crowd noise and how loud it is, but when you first walk in, you do see those things."
Head coach Steve Fisher is more worried about the Aggies’ prolific 3-point shooting.
“They're a good shooting team and they shoot better at home than on the road, statistically,” he said. “But their guys are confident shooters. We will need to make sure we contest every shot, not give them wide-open threes. They do a nice job of selectively running too, so if you get carless, they're going to fly right by you. So we'll find out whether we'll be able to continue to guard efficiently against multiple threats.”
Utah State (12-6, 2-4) has lost two straight and four of six, but boast one of the best players in the conference in Jerrod Shaw. The 6-foot-10 senior is averaging 16 points and nearly eight rebounds a game.
"I don't know how he compares to other (centers), but I do know he's long, athletic, can move away from basket and make you guard him, he scores over the top of you, he's got good low post moves,” Fisher said of Shaw. “He's a basketball player, he knows how to play, and he's a veteran player. So they find ways to get all their guys involved where they can do damage.”
The pressure mounts with each win, as do expectations for the Aztecs. They are projected as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament by ESPN.com’s Bracketology. Their lone loss was more than two months ago, a 69-60 defeat at the hands of Arizona on Nov. 15. The Wildcats are still undefeated and have since climbed to No. 1 in the nation, a place they’ve held for the past seven weeks.
"I don't think it's pressure on us,” said junior Aqeel Quinn. “We take it game-by-game and try not to look at the rankings and we definitely can't get big-headed with the coaches, they don't let us. So I don't think it puts any pressure on us."
Saturday’s game starts at 8 p.m. and can be seen on ESPNU or heard on AM 1090. The Aztecs are next at home a week from Saturday against Colorado State.