Las Vegas, NV (SportsNetwork.com) - The 10th-ranked team in the nation tries to focus on the task at hand, as the San Diego State Aztecs pay a visit to the UNLV Runnin' Rebels for a Mountain West Conference showdown at the Thomas & Mack Center.
San Diego State, which is currently tied with New Mexico for the best record in the MWC at 14-2, will face the 21st-ranked Lobos in the regular-season finale on Saturday, a game which could easily determine the champion in the league, as well as improve the team's placement in the NCAA Tournament.
The Aztecs, who lost to UNM a few weeks back n the road by a score of 58-44, have won two games since, the latest being an 82-67 beating of Fresno State on the road Saturday night at the Save Mart Center. The team has now won four of the last five after stringing together 20 consecutive victories previously.
As for the Runnin' Rebels, they've taken a back seat to UNM and SDSU yet again, but still the squad is third in the standings with a record of 10-6. The team put a total of seven players into double figures against Air Force the last time out, resulting in an awkward 93-67 win on the road. UNLV has now won two straight and will close out the regular season on Saturday night in a rivalry matchup against Nevada in Reno.
With respect to the all-time series, UNLV owns a 35-22 advantage, although the Aztecs won the first meeting of the season back in January, 63-52, at home.
Before the Aztecs came calling, Fresno State had been streaking along and making waves after working through a tough first-half of the campaign. Nevertheless, the victory for SDSU was the 41st straight against an opponent from the state of California, thanks to the efforts of Xavier Thames with his 22 points, followed by Aqeel Quinn and Winston Shepard with 17 and 13 points, respectively. San Diego State won the battle of the boards, 34-21, yet no one had more than six rebounds in the contest for the visitors.
Thames isn't a flashy player, but he is the one who continues to drive this San Diego State group at both ends of the floor. He leads the program in scoring with 16.6 ppg and is first with 80 assists, more than twice as many as all but one of his teammates. Thames is also the key shooter out on the perimeter with 49 triples. Defensively, there are few teams in this country that can stack up against SDSU as the group allows just 29.1 percent shooting beyond the arc, 38.3 percent from the floor overall, and a mere 57.2 ppg when you put it all together.
Against UNLV, the Falcons didn't stand a chance last Saturday, as the Rebels spread the wealth with as many as 10 players showing up on the score sheet. Deville Smith and Khem Birch both tallied 15 points, the latter clearing 14 rebounds, as the visitors crushed the Academy on the glass, 45-25. Kendall Smith pitched in with 12 points off the bench, Kevin Olekaibe added 11, followed by Jelan Kendrick, Roscoe Smith and Bryce Dejean-Jones all with 10 points as well.
A double-digit scorer in five straight outings, Dejean-Jones heads a list of four double-figure scorers on the season with his 13.7 ppg, although his mere 29.8 percent accuracy behind the 3-point line is rather disappointing. Birch checks in with 11.6 ppg, but it is his presence in the paint that is so valuable, from his 9.7 rpg to a massive 108 blocked shots in 29 games which makes him one of the leaders nationally in the latter category. Roscoe Smith (11.0 ppg) has come up small on the glass by his standards lately, but still his 11.0 rpg is one of the top marks in the country.