Fort Collins, CO (SportsNetwork.com) - Playing just their second true road game of the season, the 21st-ranked San Diego State Aztecs head to Moby Arena where they will contend with the Colorado State Rams in the Mountain West Conference opener on Wednesday night.
Winners of nine straight since bowing to nationally-ranked Arizona the second week of the season, the Aztecs have steadily been climbing up the rankings since breaking into the Top-25 in early December. Last Friday, SDSU returned to action against tiny St. Katherine College, a local program, and despite blowing the doors off the Firebirds, 118-35, the Aztecs actually dropped one spot in the polls.
As for the Rams, a team which is 9-2 at home thus far, they are opening league play on a two-game win streak. Since losing to Denver on Dec. 11, Colorado State has delivered with a 74-61 victory over Illinois-Chicago, and an 86-71 triumph over Lamar this past Saturday.
The series between these two teams traces back to the 1961-62 campaign, and currently favors the Rams by a count of 37-34. However, San Diego State owns a 22-10 mark between the squads while both have been members of the MWC. The teams have split a pair of meetings over the last two seasons, each winning at home.
For the Aztecs, the meeting with St. Katherine College was a laughable encounter that ended with the hosts posting their largest margin of victory in their Division I history. From a defensive standpoint, SDSU managed to hold a third straight opponent to under 40 points, the first D-I program to make that happen since 2000, and just the second to accomplish the feat in the last 18 seasons. Winston Shepard tallied a career-high 21 points, leading six players in double figures. Dwayne Polee pitched in with 19 points and 12 boards, with Aqeel Quinn adding 14 points. Matt Shrigley finished with 12, and Skylar Spencer and Xavier Thames each had 10 in the lopsided victory.
Thames now leads the team in scoring through 11 games with his 15.6 ppg, shooting better behind the 3-point line (.471) than he is the field overall (.429). Thames is also first on the unit with 29 assists and 19 steals, but for the most part the Aztecs try to spread responsibilities across the roster. Shepard accounts for 12.9 ppg and 4.9 rpg as the only other double-digit scorer for the program producing 77.2 ppg.
Against Lamar, the Rams scored the first points of the contest and never looked back, leading by as many as 20 points late in the meeting. J.J. Avila may have led the hosts with his game-high 33 points on 14-of-17 shooting from the floor, but just as impressive was Daniel Bejarano who produced a huge double-double with 19 points and a game-high 18 rebounds, not to mention handing out seven of the unit's 20 assists. Joe De Ciman chipped in another 12 points as the team made good on 51.5 percent from the field and generated a 46-31 rebounding advantage.
Bejarano, whose numbers in the last game reached thresholds that have been met only nine times by a Division I player since the 1996-97 campaign, leads the Rams on the glass with 9.6 rpg and is second with both 13.8 ppg and a total of 44 assists over the course of 13 games. Avila is similar in his approach in that he is capable of doing almost anything the team needs, from scoring (19.5 ppg), to rebounding (6.4 rpg) and passing (50 assists), but between he and Bejarano they have converted just 25-of-91 behind the 3-point line.