The San Diego State Aztecs have a new fan.
“That looks like an NCAA tournament team to me,” Utah Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said Saturday after a decisive 80-52 loss to the Aztecs at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. “We got our butts kicked.”
Krystkowiak, whose Utes beat the Nevada Wolf Pack 79-74 in Reno on Nov. 5, turned the ball over 17 times and shot just 31 percent (15-of-48) against the Aztecs.
“That’s what a team looks like when it is committed to defending and making things difficult,” said Krystkowiak of the Aztecs. “It looks to me like they enjoy playing defense and not many teams do.”
The Aztecs, the No. 1 team in this week’s Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings, are a perfect 12-0 after wins over San Diego Christian (92-48) and Utah last week.
The top four teams in the Appeal’s rankings (San Diego State, Utah State, New Mexico and Nevada) remained the same as a week ago. The four teams were a combined 7-1. The only loss by the top four teams was Nevada’s 68-63 decision to Saint Mary’s in San Francisco.
San Diego State jumped out to an 18-5 lead against Utah as the Utes missed six of their first seven shots.
“They’ve got some elite defenders,” Krystkowiak said. “You don’t find too many weak links out there. They just guarded the crap out of us.”
The Aztecs are among the best defensive teams in the nation. San Diego State is fifth in points allowed (56.3 a game), second in scoring margin (20.8 points a game), 10th in field goal defense (.363), 10th in 3-point shooting defense (.263) and sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5).
“In the first half there were probably five 50-50 balls bouncing around and it just seemed there was a little more want-to on the Aztecs’ part,” Krystkowiak said.
No. 2 Utah State improved to 12-2 with victories over South Florida, 76-74, in overtime in Houston on Wednesday and 65-62 over Florida at the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic in Sunrise, Fla., on Saturday.
Sam Merrill had 21 points on four threes against South Florida and 21 points in five threes against Florida for the Aggies. Justin Bean had 12 points and nine rebounds in each game.
Aggies’ sophomore center Neemias Queta had 18 points against South Florida but limped off the floor in the first half of the Florida game with an undisclosed (as of Monday morning) injury. Queta has only played in four games and 72 total minutes this season after suffering a knee injury in the fall. Queta played 10 minutes against Florida and did not score a point and did not take a shot.
Florida coach Mike White, though, came away impressed with Utah State. White’s Gators missed their first 14 shots.
“They (Utah State) are a team that could make a deep run in March,” said White, whose Gators upset Nevada in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament 70-61 in Iowa. “They are a team that is as good as any team we will play this year.”
No. 3 New Mexico (12-2) whipped Grand Canyon (91-71) on Tuesday and Houston Baptist (107-88) on Sunday. Jaquan Lyle had 21 points on four threes against Grand Canyon and 19 points against Houston Baptist. The Lobos shot 72-of-120 (60 percent) combined in the two games.
No. 4 Nevada (8-5) beat Texas Southern 91-73 at home on Wednesday before falling to Saint Mary’s three nights later in San Francisco. Jalen Harris had 31 points combined in the two games, despite missing 11-of-17 shots against Saint Mary’s. Jazz Johnson had 29 points combined in the two games.
Nevada turned the ball over 16 times against Saint Mary’s and missed six of its seven 3-point attempts in the second half.
No. 5 Colorado State (8-6) won at Tulsa, 111-104, in three overtimes. Tulsa missed all six of its shots (0-of-5 on threes) in the third overtime.
Isaiah Stevens had 26 points in 47 minutes for Colorado State. Kendle Moore had 23 points in 46 minutes while David Roddy had 17 points and 11 rebounds in 38 minutes and Nico Carvacho had 15 points and 18 boards in 47 minutes.
“That game will go down as an all-time,” Colorado State coach Niko Medved said.
The game featured 25 lead changes and was tied 21 times. The Rams’ 111 points are the most they’ve scored in a game since a 119-79 win over Fort Lewis in December 1992. The three-overtime game also equals the record for the longest game in Colorado State history.
“The one thing I love about this team is that they continue to show grit,” Medved said. “It doesn’t matter what happens. They just keep coming back.”
No. 6 Boise State (6-5) dropped one spot in the rankings after a 74-60 loss to Georgia Tech in Honolulu on Sunday. The Broncos led 31-26 at the half but then missed 8-of-10 3-pointers and shot 8-of-26 (31 percent) in the final 20 minutes.
No. 7 Fresno State (4-7) whipped IUPUI 95-64 at home on Friday, making 16-of-17 free throws. New Williams led the Bulldogs with 24 points on six threes. Mustafa Lawrence had nine assists.
No. 8 UNLV (5-8) lost to Pacific 74-66 on Wednesday and beat Robert Morris 81-69 on Saturday in a pair of home games. The Rebels made 3-of-4 threes in the second half against Robert Morris after going 0-for-7 in the first half. Robert Morris led 35-34 at halftime.
No. 9 Air Force (6-7) beat Johnson & Wales 99-42 on Tuesday as 14 Falcons played between 10 and 21 minutes. Johnson & Wales is a Division III school from Denver. Air Force then lost to Drake at home 85-80 on Saturday despite getting 24 points from Ryan Swan and 16 from Lavelle Scottie.
No. 10 San Jose State (3-10) lost at Santa Clara 88-84 on Wednesday and 80-65 to UC Riverside on Sunday at home. Seneca Knight had 29 points and Ralph Agee had 28 in the two games combined. Zach Chappell had 20 points against Santa Clara but just five against UC Riverside on 1-of-9 shooting. The Spartans have now lost eight games in a row.
No. 11 Wyoming (4-9) lost at home to Utah Valley (69-67) on Wednesday and beat Denver 72-66 in overtime on the road on Saturday. Hunter Maldonado had 43 points in the two games combined for Wyoming. The Cowboys missed 20-of-27 threes in the win at Denver.
Denver of the Summit League is now 0-4 against Mountain West teams (Colorado State, Utah State, Air Force, Wyoming) this year.
The Nevada Appeal Mountain West men’s basketball rankings for the week of Dec. 23-29:
1. SAN DIEGO STATE (12-0, 2-0). This week: Cal Poly at San Diego State (Saturday).
2. UTAH STATE (12-2, 2-0). This week: Eastern Oregon at Utah State (Saturday).
3. NEW MEXICO (12-2, 2-0). This week: UC Davis at New Mexico (Sunday).
4. NEVADA (8-5, 1-0). This week: No games.
5. COLORADO STATE (8-6, 0-2). This week: Doane at Colorado State (Saturday).
6. BOISE STATE (6-5, 1-1). This week: at Portland (Monday); Cal State Northridge at Boise State (Saturday).
7. FRESNO STATE (4-7, 0-2). This week: San Francisco at Fresno State (Monday); UC Riverside at Fresno State (Saturday).
8. UNLV (5-8, 1-0). This week: Eastern Michigan at UNLV (Saturday).
9. AIR FORCE (6-7, 1-1). This week: No games.
10. SAN JOSE STATE (3-10, 0-2). This week: Pepperdine at San Jose State (Saturday).
11. WYOMING (4-9, 0-2). This week: Nebraska Wesleyan at Wyoming (Saturday).